The new ‘talking’ Barbie gets parents worried

By | March 14, 2015

Looks like a new competition has been popped up for Siri from an old friend. This rival has got nothing to do with phone for its just a doll.

Hello Barbie

That’s right, Barbie doll is going high-tech! Mattel’s new “Hello Barbie” has more tricks up her sleeve than just saying hello. Now, not only can a child be able to dress her up and talk to her, but the doll is now able to respond, thanks to Wi-Fi and voice recognition technology.

“The No. 1 request we receive from girls globally is to have a conversation with Barbie, and with Hello Barbie we are making that request a reality,” Stephanie Cota, Mattel’s senior vice president of global communications, said in a statement.

The working mechanism of the doll, which made her debut at the 2015 American International Toy Fair, is quite simple. Once a button on the doll is pressed, the Barbie will record a child’s voice with its embedded microphone. That recording would then to be sent via Wi-Fi to Mattel’s technology partner, ToyTalk, which would process the audio with voice-recognition software and help the Barbie come up with a chatty response.

The tech behind Barbie’s brains, developed by a company called ToyTalk, works basically just like Apple’s Siri voice assistant, except that it’s designed to listen to the way kids talk instead of the way adults talk. Though AI of this kind has been around for years, the fact that it’s in a toy has both privacy and children’s activists all up in a huff.

Privacy advocates and parents have dubbed the doll “Eavesdropping Barbie” and are concerned about their children’s conversations being recorded and stored. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a petition calling on the Mattel toy company to dump its plans to begin selling the ‘Hello Barbie’ in the fall. The petition already has more than 3,000 signatures.

Mattel says the doll will be able to ‘learn’ things about the children, such as their names and the names of the family members in the house. But the Campaign says that is what worries them.

Faculty adviser Angela Campbell from 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.”

Mattel disagrees and says the ‘Hello Barbie’will feature a number of safeguards to ensure that stored data is secure and cannot be accessed by unauthorized users. “Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act,” the company said in a statement.

As of now, Hello Barbie is scheduled to hit stores this fall for $74.99.