Hello Barbie Has Children’s Rights Advocates Raging

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Hello Barbie is displayed at the Mattel showroom at the North American International Toy Fair, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 in New York. Mattel, in partnership with San Francisco startup ToyTalk, will release the  Internet-connected version of the doll that has real conversations with kids in late 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Hello Barbie is displayed at the Mattel showroom at the North American International Toy Fair, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 in New York. Mattel, in partnership with San Francisco startup ToyTalk, will release the Internet-connected version of the doll that has real conversations with kids in late 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The Barbie doll first received hate for creating an impossible body ideal, with proportions that would not be plausible in reality. Over time, body acceptance activists protested and raged about the harm of the classic Barbie doll. Mattel, an American toy manufacturer, launched Barbie for the first time in 1959. Since then Mattel has been primarily associated with the doll. After being blamed for the increase in adolescent eating disorders, Mattel has attracted hate from a new audience.

In the past couple of years, due to the rise of electronic devices, there has been an alarming drop in Barbie doll sales. Out of fear of losing popularity permanently, the toy company has decided to incorporate ever evolving technology with the traditional Barbie doll. This new doll has been named Hello Barbie.

Hello Barbie has attracted attention from parents and children’s privacy activists around the world. The concerns are valid and raise the question of whether this new doll should be sold.

At a recent New York toy fair, a Mattel representative introduced the newest version of Barbie by saying: “Welcome to New York, Barbie.”

Hello Barbie then responded with: “I love New York! Don’t you? Tell me, what’s your favorite part about the city? The food, fashion, or the sights?”

Mattel is bringing Barbie to life with new voice-recognition software that will allow the doll to “listen” to children speak and give chatty responses. The doll will also remember things about each child, such as their dog’s name or their favorite food. Based on the information given, Hello Barbie will adjust its response to fit the child’s personality and tastes. This means Hello Barbie will incorporate the child’s specific likes and dislikes in every response.

The new Wifi- connected Barbie may become a hit among the new generation of technology-obsessed children, but privacy advocates are demanding production cease immediately. Why are they so against it? They say it could be used to spy on children.

Susan Linn, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), which began a campaign to pull Mattel’s product from the shelves earlier this year, says: “They really shouldn’t call it ‘Hello Barbie’; they should call it Surveillance Barbie.” Other privacy advocates simply refer to the doll as “creepy”.

Mattel says the doll’s voice-recognition technology allows it have a “unique relationship” with its owner. Similarly, a Mattel representative said, “Barbie will become [the child’s] new best friend.” With a doll that now has the ability to listen to any child and produce specific, unique responses, the possibility of the doll becoming the girl’s “best friend” isn’t far off. However, one must think about the health effects if such a thing were to happen. Is it productive for children (or anyone) to have a close relationship with an inanimate object? Will this doll negatively impact children’s social skills?

Advocates from the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood (CCFC) say the new technology could be exploited. A statement from the CCFC claims: “In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests, and her family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and used to market unfairly to children.”

The speech-recognition technology in Hello Barbie was created by San Francisco startup ToyTalk. ToyTalk was founded by a pair of former Pixar employees who have already created a number of paid iOS apps that let children have conversations with a range of creatures, from animals in the zoo to mythical beasts. The necklace on the doll will feature both the microphone and the speaker that help enable the conversations. The necklace is not removable.

ToyTalk’s privacy policy states that it may “use, store, process, and transcribe recordings” in order to “improve speech recognition technology” and carry out “research and development and data analysis.” All of the children’s conversations with the new doll will be stored permanently on servers. Angela Campbell, faculty adviser at Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology, said in a statement:  “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.” Their ambitions, likes, dislikes, and personal information will be made public. Susan Linn, the director of the CCFC, has said the doll creates “a host of dangers” for children and families. These risks include skilled computer hackers. “Kids using ‘Hello Barbie’ aren’t only talking to a doll,” said Linn, “They are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial.” Hello Barbie’s new industry moniker–Big Sister–seems all too fitting.

There is always a tradeoff between privacy and functionality – but is a talking Barbie the killer app that will drive parents to offer up their little girls to corporate stalkers? Will “Big Sister” turn out as bad as many fear, or are the concerns exaggerating the situation? We will just have to wait and see when the doll hits shelves this fall.

To watch a demo of hello Barbie click the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJMvmVCwoNM

 

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