Parents and child advocates are calling the new Hello Barbie “creepy,” and some are trying to prevent it from hitting the shelves. The new Barbie doll allows children to have “real” conversations, but in doing so they might be giving away important information to a stranger hundreds of miles away.
According to the Huffington Post, the Hello Barbie asks children questions, then records their answers. The doll then uses a WiFi connection to send the answers to San Francisco startup ToyTalk, which saves all the information for future use.
What can be the harm of that?
Law Professor Angela Campbell explained for advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
“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.”
A demonstration of Hello Barbie‘s conversational skills is featured below.
In the demo, Barbie asks, “I love New York, don’t you? Tell me, what’s your favorite part about the city: the food, the fashion, or the sites?”
Sure, that’s information the New York’s tourist board might be interested in. And it is a little strange that Hello Barbie can recognize what city she’s in (the demo was in New York). Nevertheless, questions seem to flow fairly naturally from a somewhat real conversation.
The demonstrator added that Barbie remembers the information for future reference to help answer questions — a feature she also shows off.
As Gizmodo explained, “Hello Barbie learns what you like, and tailors conversation to those tastes and preferences.”
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood believes that goes too far, and has been leading the charge against Hello Barbie.
The advocacy group released this statement.
“Kids using ‘Hello Barbie’ won’t only be talking to a doll, they’ll be talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial. It’s creepy — and creates a host of dangers for children and families.”
Nevertheless, a Mattel spokesperson talking to Gizmodo claimed the data collected from Hello Barbie will never be used to sell something. Likewise, the doll will never promote a specific thing, like recognizing it ss Super Bowl Sunday and saying, “the Super Bowl is on today.” Instead, the information will only be used to improve the doll’s performance.
ToyTalk made similar claims, saying, “ToyTalk and Mattel will only use the conversations recorded through Hello Barbie to operate and improve our products, to develop better speech recognition for children, and to improve the natural language processing of children’s speech.”
What do you think?
[Image Credit: Getty Images]