Mattel, the producer of Barbie, has launched a new product that will allow users to have lifelike conversations with the dolls. However, many children's privacy advocates and parents are unhappy with the direction that Barbie is headed in.
According to the Washington Post, Hello Barbie is equipped with a built-in recording device. When connected to WiFi, Hello Barbie records everything being said and sends it to a server to be analyzed and saved.
The server can then come up with intelligent and fitting responses to children’s statements. Eventually, Hello Barbie can learn the name of the user’s pet and can naturally segue into different topics.
Hello Barbie is most likely a reaction by Mattel to the falling sales of Barbie dolls and children’s toys in general. Toy sales have dropped the last few years, while technology-backed computer games and applications have skyrocketed.
ToyTalk, a San Francisco startup that designed the listening hardware and software in the new Hello Barbie, said that privacy has been their main point of focus.
“Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards,” a statement from Mattel said. Mattel chose ToyTalk as the brains behind Hello Barbie’s responses.
ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob claims that none of the data will be used for any use other than to interact with the user. “The data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff. Not at all,” Jacob said.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is staunchly against the release of Hello Barbie. Director Susan Linn described how important the information that kids divulge could be to corporations.
“Kids using 'Hello Barbie' aren't only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” Linn said. “It's creepy - and creates a host of dangers for children and families."
Even though there are many opposed to Hello Barbie, the toy is scheduled to be released in the fall with a retail price of $74.99.