'Eavesdropping' new Barbie has parents group worried
Hello Barbie is displayed at the Mattel showroom at the North American International Toy Fair, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 in New York. (AP / Mark Lennihan)
Published Friday, March 13, 2015 10:18AM EDT
Parents who pick up a new “Hello Barbie” for their kids could be bidding "adieu" to their privacy -- at least that's what a U.S.-based children’s advocacy group is warning.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has launched a petition calling on the Mattel toy company to dump its plans to begin selling the "Hello Barbie" in the fall. It says it doesn't like the idea that the "creepy" doll will be able to "eavesdrop" on kids by listening and recording their conversations.
The "Hello Barbie" doll, expected to retail for US$74.99, will be embedded with speech recognition technology to "listen" to kids and offer responses.
Once a button on the doll is pressed, the Barbie will record a child's voice with its embedded microphone. That recording would then to be sent via Wi-Fi to Mattel’s technology partner, ToyTalk, which would process the audio with voice-recognition software and help the Barbie come up with a chatty response.
It's the same technology that Samsung is using in its new SmartTVs that sparked fears the TVs could "listen" in on private conversations and send recordings to a third party.
Mattel says the doll will be able to "learn" things about the children, such as their names and the names of family members in the house.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says that worries them.
"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, law professor and faculty adviser to Georgetown University Center on Privacy and Technology, said to the group in a statement.
The group says that at Mattel's demonstration at the North American International Toy Fair in February, the "Hello Barbie" doll asked several questions that allowed it to gather all kinds of information about a child, her interests, and her family.
It says it's worried that the information the child reveals could be used – or misused -- by Mattel or ToyTalk, creating "a host of dangers for children and families."
Mattel disagrees, and says the "Hello Barbie" will feature a number of safeguards to ensure that stored data is secure and can’t be accessed by unauthorized users.
“Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act," the company said in a statement.