'Hell No Barbie' campaign wants 'Hello Barbie' shelved
Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, October 29, 2015 12:46PM EDT
A U.S.-based advocacy group is urging consumers not to buy a new interactive Barbie doll, saying it’s a “significant” violation of children’s privacy.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is set to launch its “Hell No Barbie” campaign next week over social media, in an effort to discourage sales of the doll.
The group launched a petition earlier this year to urge Mattel to halt production on “Hello Barbie,” which is expected to hit the shelves in time for the holiday shopping season.
The doll is marketed for its speech-recognition technology that allows it to have “conversations” with the child. The doll, which is scheduled to hit stores in November, is already available for pre-order online.
“Hello Barbie” uses an embedded microphone that records children’s voices and transmits the conversation over the Internet to a server. A partner company called ToyTalk then analyzes the recordings so that Barbie makers can give the child a “tailored recorded response.”
It's the same technology that Samsung is using in its SmartTVs that sparked fears earlier this year that the TVs could "listen" in on private conversations.
CCFC executive director Josh Golin believes the personal information could be shared and used for marketing purposes. He also said the toy could endanger children.
“It really is the perfect storm of a terrible toy,” Golin told CTV’s News Channel on Thursday. “It raises a whole host of privacy and security concerns.”
Even more worrisome, says Golin, is that the conversations may also be stored and monitored at times to “improve” the technology.
Golin said there are “all sorts of possibilities” for misuse and abuse of the recordings.
“Children talk really intimately when they talk to dolls, they confide in them, they tell them their inner-most thoughts and secrets,” Golin said. “And those secrets are going to be stored on the cloud, they’re going to be listened to by live people.”
For their part, Mattel said they will not use “Hello Barbie” at any time for advertising or marketing purposes. They have also made a commitment to parents to delete any personal information captured in a recording.
Golin is not “at all” convinced that Mattel will maintain that promise.
“They don’t define what advertising is, so the doll could be talking to children about other Barbies or Barbie products and Mattel might not consider that advertising -- we don’t know,” he said.
CCFC launched a petition earlier this year to urge Mattel to stop the production of “Hello Barbie.”
Of the tens of thousands who have signed the petition as recently as Thursday, some expressed concern that the doll’s questions to children could elicit a large amount of personal information.
“I will not be purchasing this for my daughter, it’s an invasion of privacy pure and simple,” wrote one commenter. “If I want my daughter’s inner thought and feelings published, I’ll start a YouTube channel for her.”
Another wrote: “How would Mattel stop a hacker from intercepting those conversations and potentially exposing young girls to harm? Bad idea...” said one commenter.
A commenter from British Columbia wrote that it sets a “dangerous precedent” for allowing a toy company to influence children. “A little girl’s best friend should NOT be an inanimate piece of plastic,” she wrote.
Mattel does say it would use the recordings for research and development purposes, and will share them with third-party vendors to help improve the design.