Hello Barbie: Too Much Of A Chatty Kathy?

23 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Eavesdropping’ Barbie creepy and dangerous: Advocacy group.

A new version of the Mattel doll released exclusively in the US is getting parents off-side after it was revealed the voices of children who talk to Barbie are recorded online. A children’s advocacy group has launched a petition to stop the production of “Hello Barbie” — a Barbie doll with an embedded microphone and Wi-Fi connectivity to record and transmit children’s conversations.A new Barbie set to hit store shelves this fall has privacy advocates crying foul over its ability to record children’s voices to a cloud-based server.In a post-Edward Snowden world, it’s understandable that some parents are more alert to technological objects and advances that could infringe upon the privacy of their lives and the lives of their children.

Billed as the world’s first “interactive doll”, the toy uses voice recognition technology similar to that employed by Apple’s Siri and Google’s Now digital assistants to understand what a child is saying to Barbie and respond. According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s website, Mattel Inc. has partnered with ToyTalk to process the recordings and use the information so Barbie can have two-way conversations with kids through a built-in speaker. With its latest product, Hello Barbie, kids will be able to tell the doll whatever’s on their mind and even hear Barbie’s response, Yahoo News reported. Although the companies have reportedly said they will get parents’ permission to record their children’s voices, the campaign says children are still at risk of exploitation by the “eavesdropping” Barbie. “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,” Georgetown University law professor Angela Campbell says on the campaign’s website. “In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests, and her family. Using technology developed by ToyTalk, this Barbie is being hailed as the first fully interactive, WiFi-enabled Barbie that can carry on a full conversation with children.

This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children.” The conversation capabilities of the Hello Barbie toy from Mattel are powered by a venture capital-backed San Francisco startup called ToyTalk, which receives and interprets speech recorded by a microphone in the doll before initiating a pre-programmed vocal response. Crucially, the data is stored by ToyTalk for use beyond the immediate response. “ToyTalk and Mattel will only use the conversations recorded through Hello Barbie to operate and improve our products, to develop better speech recognition for children, and to improve the natural language processing of children’s speech,” a ToyTalk spokesperson said. For those not up on all the latest doll data, Hello Barbie is the classic cutie complete with added technology courtesy of the San Francisco-based company ToyTalk.

It is wrong for Mattel and your technology partner ToyTalk to record, transmit, and analyse these intimate conversations.” One woman described the bizarre interaction between Barbie manufacturers and America’s kids. “I thought Furby’s were evil,” she wrote on Twitter. Angela Campbell of the Georgetown University Center on Privacy and Technology said she’s worried that children’s conversations will be analyzed for commercial purposes.

While that may not seem too ominous, this part from the Post’s story does: “Mattel says Hello Barbie will offer children a highly engaging play experience, in part because the doll will learn about its users over time.” And to give you an idea of what kind of engaging conversation the doll will be capable of, a demonstration of the toy led Barbie to offer this suggestion: “Well, you told me you like being onstage. According to various online sources, Hello Barbie records the voice of a child using a built-in microphone set off by pressing a special button on the doll. CCFC director Susan Linn said that while it could appear as though children are only talking to a doll, they are actually talking “directly” to a company with financial interests.

Mattel has tried to mitigate the backlash by telling parents they can request to have the audio from their kids’ conversation with the toy sent to them via email, Sky News reported. According to ToyTalk’s privacy policy, the company shares audio recordings with third parties that “assist us with speech recognition” and that those third parties can keep any data derived from those audio files.

ToyTalk is responsible for the technology that enables Barbie to essentially talk back to your children and chief exec Oren Jacob is on the defensive, saying, “The data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff. Not at all.” “Stuff” presumably being code for “recording all the innermost thoughts that your child dares to speak out loud in the presence of the doll.” Mattel is also promising parents that there’s nothing nefarious going on; a spokeswoman told Huffington Post: “Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Additionally, Hello Barbie’s technology features a number of safeguards to ensure that stored data is secure and can’t be accessed by unauthorized users.”

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