Wild Friday: Hey Parents, The “Barbie Sitter” Doll Spies on Kids, Uploads to Cloud

As if Barbie wasn’t creepy enough, now she will send everything your child says to mother WOTAN – the artificial intelligence that collates your every action and controls the world.  I would be very concerned if my child’s intimate conversations with her doll were being recorded and an unknown algorithm spoke back to her – wouldn’t you?  Commercial-Free Childhood reports:

At February’s Toy Fair 2015 in New York City, Mattel unveiled “Hello Barbie,” the Wi-Fi-connected doll that uses an embedded microphone to record children’s voices—and other nearby conversations. But when Mattel releases the toy in late fall, things will get seriously creepy.

“Hello Barbie” transmits the recordings over the Internet to cloud servers. Mattel’s technology partner ToyTalk processes the audio with voice-recognition software.[1] Mattel says it will use this information to “push data” back to children through Barbie’s built-in speaker.[2]

Georgetown University Law Professor Angela Campbell, Faculty Advisor to the school’s Center on Privacy and Technology, said, “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.”

The companies say that they will obtain parental permission to capture a child’s voice, but that won’t necessarily protect children from exploitation. For example, 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.[3]

Will you take a moment to ask Mattel CEO Christopher Sinclair to stop the marketing and production of “Hello Barbie”?

Instead of encouraging the kind of creative play essential for a child’s learning and development, “Hello Barbie” 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.”[4]

“Computer algorithms can’t replace—and should not displace—the nuanced responsiveness of caring people interacting with one another,” said pediatrician and CCFC Board member Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MD, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “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.”

Please join us and tell Mattel to say goodbye to “Hello Barbie.”

[1] The Register, “Hello Barbie: Hang on, this Wi-Fi doll records your child’s voice? What could possibly go wrong?” by Iain Thomson. Posted 19 Feb 2015 at 07:39. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/02/19/hello_barbie/
[2] http://youtu.be/RJMvmVCwoNM
[3] http://www.toytalk.com/legal/privacy/#children
[4] http://youtu.be/6LH9ChHoSpw