Child Advocacy group voices fears over ‘smart’ Barbie

16 Mar 2015

A child advocacy campaign has demanded that toymaker Mattel halt the production of its planned Hello Barbie amid privacy fears.

The doll was unveiled at the New York Toy Fair last month with company representatives showcasing its ability to have a two-way conversation.

Hello Barbie can also connect to the internet through a home’s Wi-Fi signal and, reportedly, uses an embedded microphone to record children’s voices before transmitting them to Mattel’s cloud servers – something the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) have slated as ‘creepy’.

“Kids using Hello Barbie aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” said Dr. Susan Linn, CCFC’s executive director. “It’s creepy – and creates a host of dangers for children and families.”

Angela Campbell, a law professor at Georgetown University, has described herself as “very concerned” that children’s intimate conversations may be recorded and analyzed.

“In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests, and her family,” said Campbell. “This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children.”

Click below to watch a Mattel demonstration at the New York Toy Fair.

Just last November, Mattel was forced to apologise after the sexist content in its 2010 Barbie ‘I Can Be a Computer Engineer’ book came to light. Despite the title, Barbie actually just comes up with “design ideas” (such as drawing puppies) in the story, and needs the help of two guys named Steven and Brian to do the real programming work.

The company wrote: “The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologise that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl’s imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

Mattel office image via Shutterstock

Dean Van Nguyen was a contributor to Silicon Republic