Is Hello Barbie the creepiest doll of all?

Hello Barbie
© CCFC

New eavesdropping Barbie records your child’s conversations and transmits them to a corporation that analyzes your kid’s likes and dislikes. And then things get weird.

"The number one request we hear from girls around the world is that they want to have a conversation with Barbie. Now, for the first time ever, Barbie can have a two-way conversation," says a spokeswoman for Mattel.

But since Barbie doesn’t actually have a brain, your child will not exactly be having a conversation with Barbie. Rather, they will be wrangled into some kind of creepy engagement with Barbie-voiced data that has been collected and customized through previously recorded chats. Hello Barbie gleans much about her mistress from their secret tête-à-têtes and starts talking back based on what she has learned.

So how does Hello Barbie do her magic? The Wi-Fi-connected doll uses an embedded microphone to record children's voices, conversations are then transmitted over the Internet to cloud servers. Mattel’s technology partner ToyTalk processes the audio with voice-recognition software. Mattel says it will use this information to "push data" back to children through Barbie's built-in speaker, reports the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC).

What ever could go wrong?

Georgetown University Law Professor Angela Campbell, Faculty Advisor to the school's Center on Privacy and Technology, says, "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. 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."

ToyTalk’s current privacy policy states:

We may use, store, process and transcribe Recordings in order to provide and maintain the Service, to perform, test or improve speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms, or for other research and development and data analysis purposes.

The CCFC notes that rather than encouraging non-structured creative play, the new product, “ensures that Mattel – not the child – drives the play.” Mattel claims the toy will "deepen that relationship girls have with [Barbie]." Over time, the toy conglomerate’s goal is to have the child and Barbie "become like the best of friends."

With friends like that…

Hello Barbie was unveiled at Toy Fair 2015 in New York City last month; Mattel plans to release the diabolical doll – with a $74.99 price tag – in late fall. The CCFC has started a petition asking Mattel to kill Hello Barbie because of its significant violation of children’s privacy. If you too are concerned, you can sign it here.

Tags: Kids | Toys

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