Creepy 'Hello Barbie' Eavesdrops on Your Children and Learns Your Dog's Name

Wednesday, 11 March 2015 - 4:16PM
Weird Science
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 - 4:16PM

Barbie was already creepy on so many different levels, but now Mattel has decided to add one more. The new "Hello Barbie" has voice recognition technology and learning capabilities, so it can converse with its child owner and learn information about them.  



At the New York Toy Fair last month, a Mattel representative introduced Hello Barbie to the crowd, saying, "Welcome to New York, Barbie."


She answered, "I love New York! Don't you? Tell me, what's your favorite part about the city? The food, fashion or the sights?"


Hello Barbie is equipped with a microphone that allows it to record conversations with the child in the form of audio files, which are then sent to a server to be processed and analyzed in order to form Barbie's responses. As a result, the doll can have conversations with children and adapt to their interests over time. According to Mattel, the doll has the ability to learn the family dog's name, as well as "all of the [child's] likes and dislikes."


This may sound far-fetched, but Mattel was able to demonstrate this ability to some extent. A representative mentioned to Barbie that she liked being onstage, and then later in the conversation asked what she should be when she grows up. Barbie answered, "Well, you told me you like being onstage. So maybe a dancer? Or a politician? Or how about a dancing politician?" (Super creepy, but at least that answer is approximately half-feminist, I guess?)


The toy has, obviously, raised more than a few privacy concerns. Advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood created a petition refers to Hello Barbie as Mattel's "eavesdropping doll" and requests the product's immediate cessation. "Kids using 'Hello Barbie' aren't only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial, said Susan Linn, the director of the advocacy group. "It's creepy - and creates a host of dangers for children and families."


Mattel responded to the group that although the privacy policy is not yet complete, the audio files would only be used to improve the product, and would never be used for marketing purposes. But even so, Linn (rightly, in my opinion) insists that the doll is a violation of children's privacy. "Children confide in their dolls," she said. "When children have conversations with dolls and stuffed animals, they're playing, and they reveal a lot about themselves."


Several experts have weighed in as well, with Angela Campbell, faculty adviser at Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Technology, stating, "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."


Mattel's response to the privacy concerns? Offering an option for parents to receive a weekly email with the audio files of their children's conversations with their dolls, because that's not creepy or violating at all. "We want to make sure parents are in control of their family's data at all times," said Oren Jacob, ToyTalk's chief executive.


Hello Barbie is expected to come out in toy stores in the fall, but we don't suggest that you buy it.

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