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“Hello Barbie”, a New Doll With Big Brother-ish Capabilities

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"Hello Barbie", a New Doll With Big Brother-ish Capabilities

Hello Barbie will be available in stores right in time for the holidays. A campaign entitled “Hell No Barbie” however seeks to inform consumers that this doll has the potential to severely violate their privacy.

In an attempt to revitalize its Barbie brand, Mattel will soon launch Hello Barbie, a Wi-Fi-connected doll with artificial intelligence. The doll “talks” to children by recording what they say and responding accordingly. All of the children’s interactions with the doll are recorded using a microphone and are sent to a remote server through Wi-Fi. The recorded voices are then interpreted by an algorithm in order to generate an appropriate response. While some might find this innovation fun and interesting, others see in this toy a big-brotherish nightmare: It is programmed to ask personal questions to little girls, record their answers (and everything else the mic picks up) and then transmits the information to a remote location.

Even the promotional video found on the Hello Barbie website (which is meant to sell the doll) cannot help but going into creepy territory as it enumerates the numerous steps required to activate the doll : Downloading an app on a smartphone, creating an account using an e-mail address, connecting the doll to the home’s Wi-Fi network, etc. In short, well-meaning parents are actually taken through the steps required to turn this toy into a highly effective spy device that can pinpoint, with exact accuracy, who said what, at what time and where to then store all of that information on remote databases.

Hello Barbie makes conversation using voice recognition technology.

When her microphone is turned on, the doll records its playmate’s voice. The child’s dialogue then travels over the internet to a server, which interprets it so Barbie can give a tailored, pre-recorded response. It’s similar to the way Apple’s interactive Siri works.

“Hello Barbie can interact uniquely with each child … sharing stories and even telling jokes!” explains the toymaker Mattel in an online ad.

Golin and his co-campaigners worry about hackers infiltrating children’s dialogue, which will be stored on a server. They also dislike that the recorded conversations will be monitored at times to improve the system.

“Having people listen to recordings [of children] talking intimately to a doll raises a whole host of questions,” said Golin.

A big concern is that information gleaned from conversations might be used for marketing purposes.

“Clearly this is going to be a trove of valuable information when you have a child talking perhaps for hours with a doll,” said Golin.

He also worries that Hello Barbie could be programmed to push products. “Mattel may be cutting deals for what products the doll is talking about,” he said.
– CBC, ‘Hell No Barbie’ campaign targets Hello Barbie over privacy concerns

Although Mattel guarantees that it won’t use the information collected for commercial purposes (to push other Mattel products), it is not guaranteeing full privacy neither. As I pointed out in my first article about Hello Barbie, the privacy policy of Toy Talk (the subdivision that handles Hello Barbie) states :

What Information Do We Share With Third Parties?

We will not share the personal information we collect through the Service with third parties, except as described in this Policy. For example, we may share personal information as follows:

(…)

when we believe in good faith that we are lawfully authorized or required to do so or that doing so is reasonably necessary or appropriate to (a) comply with any law or legal processes or respond to lawful requests or legal authorities, including responding to lawful subpoenas, warrants, or court orders;

The above provision is quite open-ended and dangerous as the information recorded by the doll could be sent to authorities, governments and other entities – if “required to”.

Hell No Barbie

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) plans to launch a “Hell No Barbie” campaign on social media and its website, warning parents and children to keep their distance from the doll.

“This is kind of the perfect storm of a bad toy,” said Josh Golin, the group’s executive director.

His organization argues the Wi-Fi connected doll — which is equipped with a tiny microphone — could act as a double agent, passing on personal information shared by your child for marketing research or nefarious purposes.

Some parents are also suspicious of the toy. “Hello Barbie is pretty creepy and it would not be welcome in our house,” said Windsor, Ont., parent Mindy Terrington.

(…)

Golin and his co-campaigners worry about hackers infiltrating children’s dialogue, which will be stored on a server. They also dislike that the recorded conversations will be monitored at times to improve the system.

“Having people listen to recordings [of children] talking intimately to a doll raises a whole host of questions,” said Golin.

A big concern is that information gleaned from conversations might be used for marketing purposes.

“Clearly this is going to be a trove of valuable information when you have a child talking perhaps for hours with a doll,” said Golin.
– Ibid.

Considering the fact that the NSA actively spies on nearly 100% of citizen communications, isn’t it obvious that the information collected by this doll could easily end up in the same databases?

If you value your privacy and do not want your children to be monitored by faceless entities, you definitely need to say Hell No Barbie.

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"Hello Barbie", a New Doll With Big Brother-ish Capabilities
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