Consumer Law

Privacy advocates criticize new 'Hello Barbie' doll with wi-fi microphone

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A new Mattel prototype of an iconic toy anticipates that “Hello Barbie” will soon be able to talk with children as they play with the doll. Pressing a button will turn on the microphone and connect the toy to wi-fi.

The problem is, the same voice-recognition software that enables the doll to “learn” and respond specifcally to the child’s comments with details such as the name of the family pet is also transmitting to a third party, via the Internet, detailed information about the child’s thoughts and interests, privacy advocates say. Some are seeking a ban on the doll, which is scheduled to arrive on store shelves in the fall, reports the Washington Post (reg. req.).

“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,” says Angela Campbell of Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology.

However, Mattel and ToyTalk, which is working with the toymaker on the Hello Barbie project, says privacy safeguards will prevent any inappropriate use of the personal information collected by the dolls.

The data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff. Not at all,” ToyTalk chief executive Oren Jacob told the newspaper. He said the information collected by the dolls will only be used to improve the speech-recognition features on Hello Barbie.

A specific privacy policy reportedly is still being developed.

Hat tip: Technology Chronicles (San Francisco Chronicle)

See also: “Be careful what you say when your smart TV is on, Samsung warns customers”

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