Child Advocates Mobilize to Stop Mattel's Eavesdropping 'Hello Barbie'

For Immediate Release

Child Advocates Mobilize to Stop Mattel's Eavesdropping 'Hello Barbie'

BOSTON, Mass. - Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is demanding that toymaker Mattel halt marketing and production of its planned "Hello Barbie." The Wi-Fi-connected doll uses an embedded microphone to record children's voices—and other nearby conversations—before transmitting them over the Internet to cloud servers. Mattel's technology partner ToyTalk then processes the audio with voice-recognition software. During its Toy Fair 2015 product demonstration, Mattel said it will use this information to "push data" back to children through Barbie's built-in speaker.

"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, JD, Georgetown University Law Professor and Faculty Advisor to the school's Center on Privacy and Technology, said, "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. In Mattel's demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests, and her family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children."

The companies say that they will obtain parental permission to capture a child’s voice, but that won’t necessarily protect children from exploitation. For example, ToyTalk’s current privacy policy states:

We may use, store, process and transcribe Recordings in order to provide and maintain the Service, to perform, test or improve speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms, or for other research and development and data analysis purposes.

A Mattel spokeswoman claims the toy will "deepen that relationship girls have with [Barbie]." Over time, she says, the goal is for the child and "Hello Barbie" to "become like the best of friends."

"Computer algorithms can't replace—and should not displace—the nuanced responsiveness of caring people interacting with one another," according to pediatrician Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MD, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "Children's well-being and healthy development demand relationships and conversations with real people and real friends. Children do not need commercially manufactured messages—artificially created after listening in on anyone within range of Mattel's microphones."

Dr. Linn added, “'Hello Barbie' not only discourages the kind of creative play essential for learning and development, it ensures that Mattel—not the child—is driving the play."

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The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups and concerned parents who counter the harmful effects of marketing to children through action, advocacy, education, research, and collaboration among organizations and individuals who care about children. CCFC is a project of Third Sector New England (www.tsne.org).

 

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