Child advocates want toymaker Mattel to pull the plug on a new interactive Barbie doll that records children’s voices and uploads them to a cloud server.
The Hello Barbie doll – expected to arrive in stores this fall – uses WiFi to hold two-way conversations by “listening” to a child’s words and responding appropriately.
In a videotaped demonstration of the doll at the New York Toy Fair last month, a saleswoman chatted with Barbie about New York City. “I love New York, don’t you?” Barbie gushes. “Tell me, what’s your favorite part about the city?”
When the saleswoman says she enjoys Italian restaurants, Barbie says, “You have to take me to try it!”
Susan Linn, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, says the doll is “creepy” and “dangerous.” The group is calling on Mattel to stop all production and marketing of Hello Barbie.
“Kids using ‘Hello Barbie’ aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” Linn said Wednesday in a statement.
Mattel says Hello Barbie was developed in response to the wishes of girls from around the world, whose top request was to be able to have a conversation with Barbie.
Hello Barbie conforms to government standards and employs safeguards to protect children’s data from access by “unauthorized users,” Mattel said in a statement.
“Mattel is committed to safety and security,” Stephanie Cota, senior vice president for global communications at Mattel, said in the statement.
But advocates with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood complain that Hello Barbie eavesdrops on children, exploiting private dialogues with dolls for profit.
“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,” Angela Campbell, faculty adviser to the Center on Privacy and Technology at the Georgetown University law school, said in the group’s statement.
“ In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests and her family,” Campbell said. “This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children.”
Computer algorithms shouldn’t displace children’s real conversations with real friends, pediatrician Dipesh Navsaria, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said in the statement.
“Children do not need commercially manufactured messages – artificially created after listening in on anyone within range of Mattel’s microphones,” Navsaria said.