As we reported in February, Barbie may finally gain a voice of her own via voice recognition technology that is processed in “the Cloud.” As we noted before, this new Hello Barbie, will be able to tell jokes, play games, and even remember your child’s specific interests or preferences. She’s even going to be able to hold a two-way conversations, using WiFi to interact with whomever is playing with her. Now though child advocacy group, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is asking consumers to help put a stop to “Mattel’s “Hello Barbie” Eavesdropping Doll.” CCFC notes that when, “Mattel releases the $74.99 toy, things will get seriously creepy.” Read on for more details on why this incarnation of Barbie should not make its way to toy store shelves.
CCFC is concerned with child privacy because once “Hello Barbie” transmits a child’s voice recordings over the Internet to cloud servers and Mattel’s technology partner ToyTalk processes the audio with voice-recognition software, the information will be used to “push data” back to children through Barbie’s built-in speaker. Georgetown University Law Professor Angela Campbell, Faculty Advisor to the school’s Center on Privacy and Technology, tells CCFC, “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.” Mattel has said that they will first obtain parental permission to capture a child’s voice, but CCFC says simply gaining parent permission isn’t enough to ensure that children are well-protected from exploitation. CCFC is asking parents and other consumers to seriously think about the implications Hello Barbie may have for child privacy and then take a moment to ask Mattel CEO Christopher Sinclair to stop the marketing and production of “Hello Barbie.”