Barbie is watching you

Published: March 17, 2015
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In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks questions that would extract a great deal of details about a child, her interests and her family. PHOTO: FILE

In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks questions that would extract a great deal of details about a child, her interests and her family. PHOTO: FILE

Turns out, some Barbie dolls aren’t that innocent. Makers of the doll have been accused of creating a doll that spies on kids. There might, in fact, be some truth to the allegation. Hello Barbie is an ‘interactive’ doll fashioned by Mattel, which is presently in its trial stage, reported Cosmopolitan UK. It’s purposely designed to chit-chat with its little owners and is all part of a plan to install life into the toy market with the use of technology.

However, some people just aren’t buying the idea and the doll has already been tagged as ‘creepy’. Reason: it records kids talking and delivers those audio files via Wi-Fi across to technology makers ToyTalk’s servers. This particular use of technology is worrying for critics. Angela Campbell, a faculty adviser from Georgetown University’s Centre on Privacy and Technology, asserted, “I would be very concerned that my child’s intimate conversations with her doll were being recorded and analysed.”

In Mattel’s sample presentation, Barbie asks many questions that would extract a great deal of information about a child, her interests and her family. These details could be of great worth to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children, suggests Campbell.

The company, though, maintains that the use of technology is only so that the information from children can be processed and the doll can respond with an appropriate response and that it wouldn’t be used “for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff.” Unfortunately, it gets worse.

An additional feature of the doll that Mattel seems to think is an extra bonus is the ability for parents to keep a check on their own children. Parents can apparently opt to receive regular emails, which allow them to listen to the audio files recording their child’s conversations with the doll.

Children spurt out all kinds of baloney talk, none of which is likely to be significant or particularly essential for any inquisitive parent to listen in on. All in all, it sounds like a bizarre idea. It’d be a good idea to just leave voiceless Barbie alone and let kids stick to their imagination for entertainment, minus the spying.

Published in The Express Tribune, March  18th,  2015.

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