Mattel Prepares to Release “Surveillance Barbie”

Monday, March 16, 2015
(photo: Mattel)

Big Brother is here—and her name is Barbie.


Mattel has introduced “Hello Barbie,” a doll that records what a child says to the doll and sends it back to servers to process the chatter and “push data” back to the child.


The doll, set to be released in the fall and developed with the startup ToyTalk, will record what the child (or anyone else within range) says and use voice-recognition software to analyze the speech, compare it to other things previously said by the child, and make an appropriate response.


According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), Mattel says the toy will “deepen that relationship girls have with [Barbie]” and that the company’s goal is to have the child and Barbie “become like the best of friends.”


Well, like a best friend who rats you out to your parents. Mattel will email parents with transcripts of the child’s conversations with Barbie, according to The Register.


ToyTalk’s privacy policy allows it a great deal of latitude about what it may do with the conversations it records. “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 policy says.


Having a computer direct messages to a child is troubling to some. “Children’s well-being and healthy development demand relationships and conversations with real people and real friends,” said CCFC Board member Dipesh Navsaria, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Children do not need commercially manufactured messages—artificially created after listening in on anyone within range of Mattel’s microphones.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Stop Mattel’s “Hello Barbie” Eavesdropping Doll (Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood)

Hello Barbie: Hang On, This Wi-Fi Doll Records Your Child’s Voice? (by Iain Thomson, The Register)


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