Mattel’s Creepy New Barbie Lets Parents Spy On Their Kids
In her time, Barbie has been many things: an astronaut. A doctor. A computer engineer (kind of). And now, she gets to try a new and exciting career in espionage!
A new model of the classic doll, called “Hello Barbie”, probably because “NSA Wannabe Barbie” is too long to fit on the box, comes with an accessory more unusual than the standard assortment of purses, shoes, and hats: an embedded microphone. Jezebel reports that the doll is meant to be interactive; Barbie records what a child says to her, then transmits that recording to the servers of a company called ToyTalk. ToyTalk’s technology processes what the child is saying, and puts together an appropriate response for Barbie to rattle back. Cute! Also, creepy.
To start with, I’m a little ehhh on the idea of having whatever random crap a child happens to confide to his or her new pal Barbie hanging out in this company’s data cloud indefinitely. At least Barbie only records audio while you hold down a little button on her belt buckle–although the odds that Barbie could be carelessly put away in such a way that the button ends up getting pressed by whatever she’s tossed onto are definitely approaching 100%. We’ve all seen how the average nine-year-old’s room looks, right?
ToyTalk’s company’s CEO, Oren Jacob, vows that his company doesn’t have anything nefarious planned for the collected data, telling the Washington Post:
“The data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff. Not at all.”
So we have Jacob’s word, at least, that the company won’t be analyzing the data that kids provide in order to target ads to them. Or to create SkyNet and inadvertently send us all into the dystopian future of the Terminator film franchise. But what I’m a lot more skeeved out by is the use of this collected data that ToyTalk does cheerfully offer: emailing parents a regular compilation of the audio their kid has recently recorded to Barbie.
Umm. No thank you, please? Spy-Tits Barbie is just an updated version of parental diary-snooping for the 21st century. Giving out a Barbie doll as a perky blonde confidante and then spying on all the things your kid tells her is for one thing creepy, and for another a total invasion of the kid’s privacy. Even if everything that’s recorded is totally innocuous, I think most kids would be horrified to learn that a parent was long-distance eavesdropping. Kids need space to be kids without constant parental hovering, even if that hovering is being done over a stable wi-fi connection. Please, let Barbie be Barbie, and let your kid have some space.
(Image: Chris Jackson / Staff / Getty)