Just in time for the holiday season, comes a new toy that may raise the hairs on your neck. Such is the case with Mattel Toys’ newest addition to it’s Barbie line, called the “Hello Barbie”. Whereas the doll is only available for pre-order online right now, this interactive toy is sure to be a huge hit during this holiday shopping season. Just as citizens are becoming more concerned with their privacy, “Hello Barbie” may turn that notion on it’s head.
As consumers, most of us are aware of the listening capabilities of smartphones. Apple’s iOS assistant named Siri is wildly popular. Hello Barbie acts very much like Siri, by recording the child’s words, sending those words via internet to a server, and the server tailors a custom response to what that child says. The creepiness of that process is cause for alarm by at least one privacy group. What is the big deal you may wonder?
Imagine a child having a conversation with this wi-fi connected doll, and the information getting intercepted by hackers or worse yet, used by Mattel for marketing purposes. In the US, there are privacy laws that prohibit information from being collected on anyone younger than 13 years old. If this information was used for the wrong reasons, it would be a potential gold mine to Mattel. In the age of hand held devices, the struggling 70 year old toy company is doing whatever they can to stay relevant. Of course, Mattel has answered this charge.
They have stated emphatically that the doll would never be used for that purpose. ToyTalk, the company responsible for this technology makes a similar claim. The head of communications at ToyTalk, Tom Sarris, has stated they have taken large measures in hardware and software to deter hackers. Things may be also deleted from the server if the parents do not feel it should be on the internet.
Realistically, this toy is scary, but not to children. A child would not have visions of the doll turning in to Chucky from Child’s Play. What makes this so scary is the huge potential for this technology to go wrong. We realize the toy companies have made their claims, but if hackers can take control of a car and cause havoc, what is to stop them from doing the same to a surveillance doll? If for no other reason than to prove they can.
This holiday season, if you know someone that absolutely must have this doll, go ahead and try to get one if you can. To be honest, the technology behind it is really cool. However, if you are worried about your privacy, the privacy of children, or any of the other potential problems that could be exploited, we would advise staying away. The risks involved simply outweigh the wow factor of “Hello Barbie”.