Well folks, it’s that time of year again, the time of year where the latest and greatest toys hit the shelves just in time for the Christmas shopping season. This year, one of the most controversial toys to hit the shelves will be Hello Barbie, which is an interactive doll with artificial intelligence capable of having a real conversation. A real conversation? Yes, Hello Barbie will use voice recognition technology and a microphone to transmit the child’s dialogue to an Internet server for interpretation, which will then elicit a tailored, prerecorded response from Hello Barbie to the child. A little bit creepy? I’ll say.
Because of Hello Barbie’s conversational abilities, the privacy group, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) plans to warn parents and children about this new toy through its “Hell No Barbie” campaign. The campaign was launched this week on social media and on the CCFC website. CCFC’s executive director, Josh Golin, says, “This is kind of the perfect storm of a bad toy.” The CCFC argues that Hello Barbie’s WiFi connection combined with its microphone could potentially act as an intermediary to pass personal information about children to companies for marketing research, hackers could access children’s dialogue, and children’s conversations will be monitored by Mattel, Inc. (Mattel) to improve and update the Hello Barbie artificial intelligence system.
However, Mattel says that Hello Barbie will NOT be used for any kind of marketing or advertising campaign and that Mattel has “integrated a variety of privacy and security measures into Hello Barbie’s hardware and software.” Additionally, parents will have the capability to listen to their children’s recorded conversations and delete anything that they do not want on the Hello Barbie server. However, the CCFC doesn’t like that either. The CCFC says that “children need that space to explore and to work out their own feelings without feeling like they’re being surveilled by their parents or by a corporation.”
Besides these potential privacy concerns, this Barbie will be sitting on the shelves for a mere $74.99 (while a typical Barbie only costs around $20). So before we start discussing the privacy concerns, let’s see how many of these things go flying off the shelves.
Watch the video demonstration of Hello Barbie’s capabilities here.