Digital Life

Hello Barbie, Is Your Microphone Still On?

Hello Barbie from Mattel
Hello Barbie, interactive doll. Promotional photo from Mattel.
Solana Larsen
Written by Solana Larsen

It should come as no surprise that eagerness for innovation (and a sales profit) can get in the way of privacy and security considerations.

Consider the new wifi-connected “Hello Barbie” doll from Mattel and Toytalk that can listen to children’s voices using a microphone and respond like a real “best friend”. Depending on your outlook and level of trust, you may simply see a fun toy. Or you might see an opportunity to hack directly into people’s homes, as one hacker claims he could.

The toy companies say they see an opportunity to get to know your children better. In fact, the doll remembers what kids say so that conversations can evolve over time. But the recordings aren’t stored on the doll itself, they are encrypted and transmitted to corporate computers where they can be evaluated and compared with data from other dolls.

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in the United States is campaigning against the “eavesdropping Barbie” with a #HellNoBarbie hashtag and list of reasons to leave the toy on the shelf.

Toytalk has responded to security concerns and launched a bounty program for anyone who is able to identify security vulnerabilities. Several hackers have been rewarded with bounties of $100 or more according to a timeline on the program page.

Where do we draw the line?

There is a risk associated with using any wifi-connected device, and plenty of adults happily use voice command services on their smart phones like Apple’s “Siri” or “Google Now”. The question for everyone is, where to draw the line. At what point do we think the risk outweighs the benefits, and on whose behalf are we willing to accept those risks?

Do you feel confident that there are strong legal protections in place to protect private information shared by your children? Do you feel confident that you know which companies have access to the data? Do you feel confident that companies would never sell a toy that is not safe?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of those questions, you might turn around and ask the same questions about the devices you use in your daily life.

Not to paralyze you with fear or anything, but it is worth saying that we need to be critical of all our online interactions, and do what we can to develop robust standards and safeguards for the future.

About the author

Solana Larsen

Solana Larsen

Solana Larsen is co-author of the cookbook "Recipes for a Digital Revolution". She writes a newsletter for Web We Want and helped create this website. Formerly, she was the managing editor of Global Voices Online. Solana is a Danish-Puerto Rican journalist and digital activist.

10 Comments

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    I don’t want to be the individual eating out with friends that orders something odd off the menu,
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    from being miserable. I am hoping that you continue to develop,
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    Been doing my best to try and do quality study, so things like this actually helps.
    Anyone else think the biggest problem people
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    You want to start losing weight ASAP like I do, but you have to be willing to do a bit of
    research. If you do not do your part, I
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  • Anyhow just wanted to say. Materials like this helps
    keep me and helps me stay on track. I am hoping
    that you continue to develop, along with other people that
    want this can find it! Thanks and good luck again.
    Anyway, I really like keto up to now, although I am experimenting with trying to
    put my own spin on it. It’s essential to be flexible with your daily diet,
    even if you’re locked into some thing like”keeping carbohydrates low”.

    I do not want to be the person eating out with friends that orders something odd the
    menu, or even nothing in any way off, although I want to
    lose weight. If your daily diet comes at the cost of your joy, if you ask me it is just flat out not
    worthwhile. xoxo This is all GREAT. Been doing my best to try and do quality study,
    so stuff like this really helps. Anyone else believe the biggest issue people have with weight reduction comes from
    them not putting at work? You wish to begin losing weight ASAP like I do, however
    you have to be willing to do a bit of research first. I’m sorry to say you’re just going to have problems if you do not do your part.

  • Anyhow just wanted to say. Materials like this
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    Thanks and good luck . Although I am experimenting with trying to put my own spin,
    Anyhow, I really like keto up to now. It’s important
    to be flexible with your diet, even when you’re locked into some thing like”keeping carbs low”.
    I don’t want to be the person eating out that orders something weird off the menu,
    or even nothing at all, although I want to lose
    weight. It’s just flat out not worthwhile if you ask me if your diet comes at the expense of your joy.
    xoxo That is all GREAT. Been doing my best to attempt to do quality study, so things like this helps.
    Anyone else believe the biggest problem people have with weight reduction comes from them not putting at job ?
    You wish to start losing weight ASAP like I get, but you have to be
    willing to do a bit of research. I am sorry to say you’re just likely going to have problems if you do not do your
    part.

  • Anyway just wanted to say thanks for your site.
    Materials like this allow me to stay on track and helps keep me from
    being gloomy. I hope that you continue to develop, and
    can find it! Fantastic luck and thanks . Although I am
    experimenting with trying to set my own spin anyway, I love keto up to now.
    It is important to be flexible with your diet, even if you’re locked into some thing such as”keeping carbohydrates low”.
    I would like to shed weight, however I don’t wish to be the
    person eating out with friends that orders something odd the menu, or even nothing at all off.
    It is just flat out not worthwhile, if you ask me
    if your diet comes at the expense of your joy. That is GREAT.

    Been doing my very best to attempt to do quality research,
    so things like this helps. Anyone else think the biggest issue people have with weight loss comes from them not putting in the job?

    You wish to begin losing weight ASAP like I do, but you must be willing to do a bit of research first.
    I am sorry to say you are just probably going to have problems, if you don’t do your part.
    xoxo

  • Anyway just wanted to say. Materials like this helps me stay on track and helps to keep me out of being miserable.
    I am hoping that you continue to grow, along with can discover
    it! Thanks and good luck . Although I’m experimenting with trying
    to set my own spin on it, anyway, I really like keto so far.
    It’s essential to be flexible with your diet, even if you’re
    locked into some thing like”keeping carbs low”.
    I want to lose weight, however I do not want to be
    the individual eating out with friends that orders something weird off the menu, or nothing in any
    way. It’s just flat out not worthwhile, if you ask me, if your
    diet comes at the cost of your happiness. xoxo This is all
    GREAT. Been doing my best to try and do quality research, so
    things like this actually helps. Anyone else believe that
    the biggest problem people have with weight reduction comes
    from them not putting at work ? Like I do
    you want to begin losing weight ASAP, however you
    have to be willing to do a little research first. I’m sorry to say you’re just going to have issues, if you don’t do your
    part.

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