“Hello Barbie,” the world’s first artificial intelligence-enabled Barbie doll, has become both the subject of delight for little girls and fear for some parents, worried their children’s privacy could be at stake.
The voice-activated Barbie sells for approximately $75 and comes with either light brown hair, dark brown hair or blonde hair and both white and black skin tones.
According to local NBC News affiliate in Southern California NBC4, the technology for the voice was created by San Francisco-based software company Toy Talk. It appears to be similar to Apple’s “Siri” in that raw audio recorded by a child is sent instantly to Toy Talk’s servers, which then use their software to determine and generate “Hello Barbie’s” most fitting reply. The doll’s response is then played through a speaker that is embedded in the toy.
One of issues parents reportedly have is with the fact that every word that is recorded to “Hello Barbie” is stored in its servers for up to two years after the recording was made. This could open a Pandora’s box, according to Pam Dixon, executive director of World Privacy Forum who suggested to NBC that “the information that a child told in secret to their doll can become a matter of public record in, for example, thorny and difficult custody cases.”
Toy Talk reportedly said that these records are deleted only if the parents close the account associated with the doll, which requires prior consent to use the recording component.
Newsweek asked Mattel spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni whether the stored material would be used for other purposes. She said:
NBC also pointed to another security concern leading up to a potential breach where hackers or strangers could access sensitive information stemming from the doll’s own wireless connectivity access point which is aptly named “Barbie” and is followed by a few numbers.
Andrew Blaich, a security researcher with San Francisco’s Bluebox.com told NBC that “what we found from that is that the app is just scanning for any network with the name Barbie in it. If an attacker is nearby and is making its own network with the name ‘Barbie,’ you can force the app to connect to the other network.”
Child and adolescent psychiatrist in New York, Dr. Kevin Kalikow, also told Newsweek of the potential psychological repercussions of the doll in the article.
Two moms have reportedly filed a lawsuit against Mattel and Toy Talk, alleging that “Hello Barbie” invaded their children’s policy. In response Mattel issued a statement to NBC 4 on behalf of both companies:
As a leader in the toy industry for more than 70 years, Mattel is committed to safety and security when bringing new products to market. Mattel and ToyTalk have taken numerous steps to ensure Hello Barbie meets security and safety protocol.
Reports have claimed that Hello Barbie has been ‘hacked.’ It is important to note that in all claims we know about, no children’s audio files were accessed, nopasswords were compromised, no personal information was disclosed and no dolls were made to say anything unintended. Mattel and ToyTalk built in many privacy and security measures and are committed to providing the safest possible experience for parents and their children.
BuzzFeed took the opportunity to create a “Grown Women Discuss Feminism With Hello Barbie” video which appears to poke fun of the doll’s tendency towards femininity on their Yellow channel. This specific channel is characterized by “fun, inspiring videos from the BuzzFeed crew” and highlights sexuality, gender and race issues.
— MTV News (@MTVNews) December 17, 2015