A new Barbie doll which can talk and “listen” to children using voice recognition technology has raised concern among parents and privacy groups, with it recording responses to questions it asks to its young users using an embedded microphone before uploading those responses to cloud servers.
The responses to the questions asked by Hello Barbie are uploaded to servers maintained by a software company operating separately from the toy’s manufacturer Mattel, with them saving and decoding the recordings in order to provide more personalized “conversations” with the children playing with it. However, its ability to “remember” what the user says has led many to fear that it may be used to exploit children, monitoring their likes and dislikes in a way that could potentially lead to them being used for market research, or even advertising.
Take a look at how the world’s first Wi-Fi connected Barbie works in the demonstration below:
A campaign was set up by the CCFC (Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood) in order to stop the release of the “eavesdropping” doll, demanding that Mattel halt the marketing and promotion of it, with campaign advocate Dipesh Navsaria MPH, MD saying: “Computer algorithms can’t replace – and should not displace – the nuanced responsiveness of caring people interacting with one another.
“Children’s well-being and healthy development demand relationships and conversations with real people and real friends. Children do not need commercially manufactured messages—artificially created after listening in on anyone within range of Mattel’s microphones.”
However, Mattel has fought back against the criticisms of its product, with senior vice president Stephanie Cota saying: “The number one request we receive from girls globally is to have a conversation with Barbie, and with Hello Barbie we are making that request a reality. Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards, including the children’s online privacy protection act.”
While it’s nice and all that people are desperately trying to fight back against the inevitability of a western world in which our right to privacy is but a faded dream, it’s unlikely that Mattel are going to pull this intrusive toy from shelves given that it combines two things that children everywhere love: ceaseless talking and Wi-Fi connectivity.