The Talking Barbie: Will it Threaten Kids’ Privacy?
The cloud can be scary, especially when its responsible for things like celebrity nude leaks. Or think of the movie “Sex Tape,” where Justin Segal and Cameron Diaz’s sex tape gets “lost in the cloud.” So when toy manufacturer Mattel announced it would be releasing a new high-tech talking Barbie that uploads recordings of kids to the cloud, people freaked, with one consumer advocacy group deciding they want to box up this Barbie before she even has a chance to hit shelves.
— CCFC (@commercialfree) March 11, 2015
Mattel’s “Hello Barbie” is a doll connected to Wi-Fi that uses a microphone embedded in Barbie’s belt buckle to record children’s voices and transmit them to cloud servers where they will be stored for up to two years. They can be analyzed and used to help form Hello Barbie’s responses. Priced at $74.99, the doll is pre-programmed by Mattel’s partner ToyTalk with responses to key words or phrases, so kids feel like the doll is actually responding to them.
What’s concerning is what may happen to all of these private conversations recorded between children and their dolls stored on the cloud servers. Do children have a right to keep their conversations with these dolls private? Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, an organization devoted solely to stopping the commercial exploitation of children, says yes. It posted a petition on its site calling the dolls “creepy” and requesting consumers “say goodbye” to Hello Barbie.
Susan Linn executive director of the group, in a phone interview told USA Today:
This is really about Mattel eavesdropping on a child’s heart and soul — and the most intimate things about their lives.
The real problem, says Linn, is that Mattel will now have the ability to ‘listen in’ on kids at play. ‘It’s corporate surveillance in the home and exploitation where kids are most vulnerable — around creative play.
Mattel officials say the company is simply doing what kids have asked it to do for years–making it possible to talk with Barbie. In order to do so, parents must first give permission for their child’s voice to be captured. By requiring the parental consent, Mattel hopes to fend of any liability issues its recordings may create. In an emailed statement to USA Today Stephanie Cota, Mattel’s senior vice president of global communications, said safeguards are already in place to protect the stored data from unauthorized users. Cota said:
Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Even so have these toy developers gone too far? Children are becoming tech savvy from a young age; some are playing on smartphones and tablets before they can even talk or walk. This high-tech talking “Hello Barbie” may be exactly what children asked for, but it’s cloud sharing capabilities are frankly kind of scary.