Barbie: From Sexualizing Children to Spy*
Hello Barbie is “the world’s first interactive Barbie doll” … and it is rather creepy. Equipped with a microphone and internet connectivity, the doll asks questions to children, records their answers and send the information back to Mattel servers where it is filed and processed by a powerful algorithm.
Hello Barbie works by recording a child’s voice with an embedded microphone that is triggered by pressing a button on the doll. As the doll “listens,” audio recordings travel over the Web to a server where the snippets of speech are recognized and processed. That information is used to help form Hello Barbie’s responses.
At the New York toy fair, Mattel representatives demonstrated Hello Barbie’s capabilities.
At the demonstration at the New York toy fair, the Mattel representative chatting with Hello Barbie mentioned that she liked being onstage. Later in the conversation, when the Mattel representative asked Hello Barbie what she should be when she grew up, the doll responded, “Well, you told me you like being onstage. So maybe a dancer? Or a politician? Or how about a dancing politician?”
We may use, transcribe and store such Recordings to provide and maintain the Service, to develop, test or improve speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms, and for other research and development or internal purposes. We may make such Recordings available to the parent account holder and permit the parent account holder to share such Recordings with third parties. These Recordings may contain additional personal information if such information is provided in the Recordings, but we do not use personal information contained in Recordings to try to contact anyone. Please see “What Information Do We Share With Third Parties?” for information on how this information is shared with third parties.
How Do We Use the Personal Information We Collect?
We use personal information collected through our Service for the purposes described in this Policy or elsewhere on the Service. For example, we may use personal information we collect:
- to obtain parental consent and create a parent account;
- to provide and maintain the Service and to process and complete any transactions in connection therewith;
- respond to your communications and requests, provide customer service, request feedback, and otherwise contact you about your use of the Service;
- to monitor and analyze usage and trends and demographic information, and to personalize and improve the Service, our technology and our users’ experiences;
- to provide you with news and information about our events, activities, offers, promotions, products, and services we think will be of interest to you (with your consent where prior consent is required by applicable law);
- to send you confirmations, updates, product announcements, security alerts, and support and administrative messages and otherwise facilitate your use of, and our administration and operation of, the Service;
- to notify you about important changes to our Service and our terms and policies;
- to develop, test or improve speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms and for other research and development or data analysis purposes; and
- for any other purpose for which the information was collected, as identified at the time of collection.
We may store and process personal information in the United States and other countries.
What Information Do We Share With Third Parties?
We will not share the personal information we collect through the Service with third parties, except as described in this Policy. For example, we may share personal information as follows:
- with vendors, consultants, and other service providers (“Service Providers”) who need access to such information to carry out their work for us, such as vendors who assist us in providing the Service, in developing, testing and improving speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms or in conducting research and development;
- when you give us your consent to do so, including if we notify you in connection with the Service that the information you provide will be shared in a particular manner and you provide such information;
- in an aggregated or anonymized form that does not directly identify you or others;
That last bullet point is quite open-ended and dangerous as the information recorded by the doll could be sent to authorities, governments and other entities if “required to”. Specialist on privacy issues have recommended scrapping the doll – which is scheduled to be available in store in fall, just in time for Christmas.
“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,” Angela Campbell, faculty adviser at Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology, said in a statement. “Children confide in their dolls,” she said. “When children have conversations with dolls and stuffed animals, they’re playing, and they reveal a lot about themselves.”– Op cit. Washington Post.
While people at Mattel assure that the information collected will only be used to “improve the product”, it is obvious that Hello Barbie could be easily intercepted by all kinds of agencies such as the NSA.
Children often confide their most private thoughts to their favorite doll. Recording that stuff and sending it to a mega-corporation’s server is simply creepy and exploitative. It is yet another mind-boggling way of turning our society into an insidious, Big-Brotherish nightmare. Time to say goodbye to Hello Barbie.