When people start getting all “won’t SOMEONE think of the CHILDREN!!” about things, I typically tune right out. Just because folks don’t understand the technology behind all these new gadgets, it’s easy for them to listen to the loudest voices out there, instead of figuring out how it works. I’m kinda on the fence though about this new Barbie.
Mattel announced a new line of Barbie’s called Hello Barbie, which offers interactive playtime as Barbie will respond to what your child is asking/telling it. The technology behind this is ToyTalk, a bay area start-up company. The wifi connected doll will store the recording of what your child said to it to their server, where it is interpreted and then a response is sent back to the doll.
As you can imagine this has several parents concerned about privacy and safety. First of all, Barbie would be one hacked server away from saying some REALLY inappropriate things to your child. Which is actually a legitimate concern. If Sony’s Playstation Network, and Target’s payment processing center can get hacked, these servers are surely susceptible, just as ANY server would be. I’m sure they would put plenty of safeguards in place, but nothing is perfect.
The next concern is that the data being sent to the servers could be used for other purposes. I mean, who really wants Barbie spying on their kids? I agree that this is also a legitimate concern, BUT there will be thousands upon thousands of recordings. They could use some search tools to aggregate the kinds of things that the kids are talking about, but I doubt someone is going to be just sitting and listening to your child’s conversation. Barbie’s responses could start being programmed though to market to your child. For example, your kid says “I like ice cream” and Barbie could respond with “Let’s go to Baskin Robbins!” Totally harmless response, but definitely an ad.
So, I get it, these are definitely legit concerns from the general population. The solution however…. don’t buy the doll. You don’t need to start some campaign about it, just don’t buy it. If they don’t sell enough, they will probably stop production. While I’ve never been much of a fan of Barbie to begin with I just don’t get the necessity for this doll in the first place. So, it can respond to the things your kid asks it… so can I, so can my phone with a free app, I would NEVER pay $80 for a doll to do it.
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com