High-tech Barbie stokes privacy fears

November 30, 2015 by Rob Lever

The new Barbie doll is "intelligent" and connected. Too connected for some privacy activists.

The high-tech "Hello Barbie" doll unveiled earlier this year by toy giant Mattel and likely to be a holiday hit allows children to speak and get a response from their favorite toy.

But to make that happen, conversations travel over Wi-Fi networks to Internet "cloud" servers that use artificial intelligence to deliver a personal reply.

For the activist group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the privacy risks of the intelligent Barbie outweigh the benefits.

"Children confide in dolls and reveal intimate details about their lives, but Hello Barbie won't keep those secrets," the group said in a statement.

"When Barbie's belt buckle is held down, everything your child says is transmitted to cloud servers, where it will be stored and analyzed by ToyTalk, Mattel's technology partner.

"Employees of ToyTalk and their partner corporations listen to recordings of children's conversations—and ToyTalk won't even say who their partners are."

The consumer group says the new Barbie could become a marketing tool even though the makers have pledged not to do that. And it argues that the high-tech toy could undermine creativity.

"Children should use their own initiative and creativity to hold conversations with a doll, impart a personality and build their relationships," the statement said.

"With Hello Barbie, Mattel and ToyTalk's programmers and algorithms drive the conversation, undermining the creative play that is so critical to children's development."

To make matters worse, the organization says Hello Barbie "could be a tempting target for hackers, who could access data stored by your family on home devices and networks through the doll."

#HellNoBarbie

The group is urging parents to shun the new doll and earlier this month launched an online campaign with the hashtag #HellNoBarbie.

Mattel did not respond to requests for comment. But ToyTalk pointed in a blog post last week to the "many safety features that have been integrated" into the design of Hello Barbie.

"We are not aware of anyone who has been able to access your WiFi passwords or your kid's audio data," the company said.

ToyTalk says passwords are stored in a hardware-encrypted section of the doll, and no conversation history is stored on the toy.

It added that stored data "is never used for advertising purposes" and that the doll has been certified as compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

To address security concerns, Mattel and ToyTalk have launch a "bug bounty program," where security researchers are rewarded for responsibly disclosing potential vulnerabilities.

ToyTalk said it expects kids to warm to the new connected doll.

"Mattel and ToyTalk built this doll because the number one request from kids is to talk to Barbie," the company said.

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3 comments

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KBK
5 / 5 (2) Nov 30, 2015
As of recent, studies have shown that smart phones are making people more stupid.

What will a generic talk back doll do the developing mind of a child?

How will it wire them? For indeed it will wire them.

Never get your child one of these things, no matter how hard they may scream for one.

Let them beta test their mind control via mind edifice creation.... on some other child.

Jesuit motto: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man".

And that's what we're talking about, here. Indoctrination. Total.

It's very simple... the door is open, and the snake can get in...and snakes will go to where the door is open, in order to obtain their meal. The parasite goes to where the meal is, so expect it, as the parasite seeks the open door.

Don't give it one. Don't play games of chance and trust in this area.
Kaymen
5 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2015
I never thought I'd say this, but for the most part I actually agree with KBK.
koitsu
not rated yet Dec 06, 2015
Assuming the article presents all of the content in Mattel's response, I like how Mattel avoided addressing concerns about the doll becoming a marketing tool.

Oh, well, I guess it goes without saying, doesn't it?

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