We wrote previously about the “Hell No Barbie Campaign” and the recent lawsuit against Mattel for its Hello Barbie doll privacy violations, but through all this hype, we have yet to learn exactly what Hello Barbie is truly capable of. In a new report, Hello Barbie isn’t so bright. First, in order for Hello Barbie to ‘hear’ what you are saying, you must press a button on her belt. That activates the voice recognition software. Second, while original reports claimed that Hello Barbie could have intelligent conversations, she is “far dumber and more limited than [she] is represented to be,” said Future of Privacy Forum representative, Jules Polonetsky. While Hello Barbie is pre-packaged with over 8,000 lines of dialogue, she is not programmed to answer questions beyond a specific topic and will redirect the conversation back to her prescribed responses. So maybe Hello Barbie’s ability to record all of our conversations and have deep, personal conversations with our children is a bit more limited than we originally were told. However, there are still some concerns with the recording of children’s conversations and storing them in a cloud database accessible to hackers. And parents who have signed up for a ToyTalk Hello Barbie account will get regular email messages encouraging them to listen to their children’s conversations and share them with family and friends easily through social media buttons. When did the ability for children to just play disappear?
The broader question at hand with a toy like this is the future of these type of devices. As these devices ‘get smarter’ we need to be ready with appropriate policies, practices and regulations to protect children and adults from the overt collection of personal data and potential privacy violations.