The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood—a children's privacy advocacy group—released a petition today calling for Mattel to cease production of Hello Barbie, an "interactive" doll created in the hopes of reviving the toymaker's stumbling brand.
Angela Campbell, faculty adviser at Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Technology, said in a statement:
"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."
According to the Washington Post, the doll works by recording children's speech with an embedded microphone and then transmitting that data over the Internet, a process advocates are calling "creepy" but that executives maintain would never be used "for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff." From the Washington Post:
To chat with Hello Barbie, kids must press a button on the doll. (The doll is still in prototype form, but at least for now the button is on Barbie's belt buckle.) The doll is only "listening" when that button is depressed. The audio recording then travels over a WiFi connection to ToyTalk's cloud-based servers, where that snippet of speech is recognized and processed. Barbie then makes an appropriate response.
Here's the kicker: "ToyTalk has said parents can opt to receive daily or weekly e-mails that allow them to access the audio files of their child's conversations with Hello Barbie." Can you imagine? Where would I be today if my parents had heard all the fucked up nonsense I whispered to my dolls?
Image via Associated Press
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