If you went holiday shopping for your young relatives in 1998, then you’d probably be familiar with the electronic toy called a "Furby." That year, the toy was first released in the United States by Tiger Electronics. It caused such a craze that 1.8 million Furbies were sold in 1998 and 14 million were sold in 1999. However, the pet toy, which has been likened to an owl, a rabbit, a hamster, and even a gremlin, wasn't popular with everyone. In fact, Furbies were once considered a threat to national security. The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) banned the toy from its headquarters in 1999. Photography and audio-visual recording equipment are prohibited in NSA headquarters, and the agency was worried that the toy might unintentionally record and repeat classified information.
Considering what the public believed about Furby toys at the time, the anxiety the toy caused for the NSA was not entirely far-fetched. Consumers thought that Furbies contained built-in recorders that could repeat audio. The Furby would start out speaking its native language, "Furbish," and then, over time, it would incorporate English words and phrases into its vocabulary. It was not known, however, that the toy was pre-programmed and would say these same words aloud, regardless of what was spoken to it. Soon after the NSA ban, the owner of Tiger Electronics publicly announced that the toy actually had no ability to record anything.
The NSA wasn't the only U.S. agency skeptical of the toy. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also banned the use of Furbies during take-off and landing. The FAA thought the electronic toys might affect airplane instruments.
A redesigned Furby was launched in 2012. More advanced than its predecessor, it includes features such as LED eyes that display many different “emotions.” These newer Furbies do not seem to have triggered any governmental bans.
More about Furbies:
- When first released in 1998, a Furby cost $30 (USD) in a toy store. But demand for Furbies was so high that they could be resold for three times that amount.
- During the 1998 holiday season, many shoppers waited in line from 6 a.m. to get their hands on a Furby. Within three years of their release, 40 million Furbies had been sold.
- Some Furby owners felt that the toy was too much of a chatterbox. So in 1999, Tiger Electronics released a version of the Furby that quieted down when left alone.