I have always thought that dolls are creepy. There’s just something about them that doesn’t seem right. Maybe it is from the movie Poltergeist when that creepy clown doll tries to drag the kid under his bed. However there is a recent issue with a new Barbie doll that has child advocates in a hissy. They want the toymaker Mattel to pull the plug on a new interactive Barbie doll that records children’s voices and uploads them to a cloud server. Sound weird? Well, it kind of is. Personally, even though I think it may be creepy, I don’t see how it could be such a serious issue as to invoke child advocacy groups, but these days even the slightest issues can blow up into something huge.
The Hello Barbie doll which is expected to arrive in stores this fall uses WiFi to hold two-way conversations by “listening” to a child’s words and responding appropriately. Because of this the doll is actually able to carry o a two way dialogue. One of the arguments by advocacy groups is that the child is not speaking to a doll but rather talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial. Well call me crazy but Mattel isn’t Santa Claus and their end game, just as all corporations, is to profit. This doesn’t make them evil, it is simply what business do.
Mattel’s response is that the doll was created due to the wishes of girls from around the world, whose top request was to be able to have a conversation with Barbie. As we know the digital world is moving closer and closer to full online interaction and we are bordering on AI. Personally I think this is a very cool thing, but with all new technologies there are potential negative aspects.
One of the biggest complaints from child advocates with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is that Hello Barbie eavesdrops on children, exploiting private dialogues with dolls for profit. Now that is a valid concern. Even with our current knowledge that practically everything we do is in one way or another ‘recorded’, it is still troubling to think of a child’s conversations with a doll being recorded. As you can probably imagine this could lead to a great deal of privacy issues, one being the fact that child do not keep personal details about themselves censored. At their young and innocent age they haven’t yet learned to be careful of what they say. Therefore it is likely that a child will give away information regarding their full name, address, or other sensitive details that should not be recorded or uploaded online anywhere.
The odd thing is that the child advocates do not seem to mention that is their primary reason for concern. Oddly their main concern is that the information provided by the child could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children. But like it or not companies have learned a long time ago that the practice of studying child’s likes and dislikes when it comes to commercially produced toys is what makes or breaks a new product’s potential profit.