Tinker tailor soldier Barbie
Philip Ellison 17 March, 2015 at 05:03
Barbie is spying on your kids.
A new ‘smart’ version of the iconic doll, dubbed Hello Barbie and slated for release later this year, will feature voice recognition technology that enables it to respond to verbal cues and hold conversations with kids. And while ‘Barbie meets Siri’ was inevitable for a generation of kids growing up surrounded by smartphones, there is one issue causing concern among parents; privacy.
It seems that Hello Barbie will not only record everything that her young owner says, she will also transmit it back to a not-at-all sinister corporate HQ. This is supposedly so that the voice content can be decoded and an appropriate response can be formulated. Most kids’ complete and utter lack of a filter, paired with the special, confidential bond shared by so many children and their toys, means all sorts of highly sensitive information could make its way from the playroom out into the real world.
“We may use, transcribe and store such recordings to provide and maintain the service, to develop, test or improve speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms, and for other research and development or internal purposes,” say ToyTalk, the company behind the tech behind Hello Barbie. “We may share recordings with service providers… We may also share feature extracted data and transcripts that are created from such recordings, but from which any personal information has been removed, with service providers or other third parties.”
Of course, in the realm of grown-ups we know that this data sharing ultimately helps brands and marketers to craft contextual ad campaigns based on our personal interests. But the possibility that Hello Barbie will turn out to be some kind of stealth shill is off-putting to many parents, who are protesting the toy’s launch.
Manufacturer Mattel maintains that it is “committed to safety and security,” while ToyTalk has stated that “the data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff.” But when it comes to their children, many consumers might not be willing to take the chance.