Buh-Bye Privacy: New “Hello Barbie” Spies on Kids

March 18, 2015  |  

Over the years she’s held down dozens of different jobs; from a teacher, to a veterinarian, to an astronaut; reinforcing the fact that girls can “be anything.” Now, thanks to the folks at Mattel and a company known as ToyTalk, we can also add spy to the blonde bombshell’s resume, as the latest addition to the doll collection takes helicopter parenting soaring to new heights… Or sinking to new lows. However you want to look at it.

Still in prototype form — where protestors are hoping she stays — according to the Washington Post, Hello Barbie works by recording children’s speech with an embedded microphone and then transmitting the data over the Internet. Your daughter’s chats with her plastic playmate are then sent to ToyTalk’s cloud-based servers, where the words are recognized, processed, and a response is created. And not the canned kind either.

The perk for parents who are prone to pry? The company lets you opt in to daily or weekly emails that contain access to audio files of your child’s conversations with Barbie. No need to try to guess pesky passcodes or anything. Just a click of the mouse and you can hear every juicy secret your daughter divulges to Barbie. You know, who’s crushing on Ken, where Skipper’s been spending her nights….

Whether you find it cool, creepy or otherwise, the big question on many people’s minds is: What else are they doing with those recordings?

“If I had a young child, I would be very concerned that my child’s intimate conversations with her doll were being recorded and analyzed,” Angela Campbell of Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology said in a statement. “In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests, and her family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children.”

This is why children’s privacy advocacy group, The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, has released a petition calling for Mattel to cease production of the toy.

But ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob promises, “The data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff. Not at all.” (Insert suspicious side-eye here.)

So taking the company at its word and trusting that the recordings won’t be used for any kind of shady behavior on their part, let’s talk about how Hello Barbie will be used by kids and parents…realistically.

After what we’re sure will be a somewhat frustrating parent setup, Barbie and the child will have their first exchange, which, as far as we can tell will include the basics… “What’s your favorite color? How much do you love shopping?” Questions that any teacher, veterinarian or astronaut would bring up in conversation.

Once Barbie and your child “get to know one another,” it probably won’t take long for the novelty of it all to wear off, and Hello Barbie won’t have much to report to you anyway. She’ll just end up joining the other hi-tech dolls that your child just had to have and only used a handful of times.

“No thank you, Barbie.”

 

Tell us MommyNoire: How do you feel about the concept of Mattel’s Hello Barbie? Do you think taking advantage of the doll’s recording capabilities is going too far or just good parenting? How much privacy should kids have during playtime?

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