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#HellNoBarbie Campaign Voices Concerns over #Child #Surveillance

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The new 'Hello Barbie' talking doll from Mattel has drawn in waves of criticism from both parents and child protection groups due to the recording and storage of children's conversations with the product. In response, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a group dedicated to preventing marketing aimed at children, has launched the #HellNoBarbie social media campaign to air their disgust.



The conversations are stored by partner company ToyTalk, where they are then analysed to allow the doll to generate a response. This has raised concerns for various reasons; chief among which seems to be the questions that the doll asks of the child using it. The selected questions are reported to be highly personal and allow for the concise gathering of data from said child that could easily be used for marketing purposes.


Josh Golin, Executive Director of CCFC, made a strong statement regarding the product:

"Hello Barbie is a terrible toy that threatens children's privacy, well-being and creativity, we must stop Mattel and ToyTalk from spying on children's private play and spawning a whole host of eavesdropping imitators."

All the companies involved insist that there are no plans to use the data for anything other than the functionality of the doll itself, but with cyber hacks now a common occurrence this has not been enough to appease many worried individuals. Even if Mattel and ToyTalk have only the best, most innocent intentions, there is always the risk of another party hacking their servers and gaining access to highly sensitive information regarding the world's children. As the child develops a relationship of sorts with the doll, as often happens with kids and their toys, there's no way of censoring the information provided by the child. This means there could soon be a massive bank of information online related to all aspects of your child's life. The more you look into it, the easier it is to see where all the worry stems from.

In an attempt to defend the new product, Mattel and ToyTalk both point to the fact that parents must enable the wifi connectivity via an accompanying app before any data is stored, and that everything the data may be used for is outlined in plain English prior to activation, but concerns over the product run deeper than that.

Experts have also commented on the detrimental effect such a bizarre relationship may have on the child in question. Children's toys encapsulate their minds and provoke imagination, becoming whatever the particular child wants them to be. This is largely due to the fact that they only talk in the mind of the child. By engineering such definite responses the toy loses a large portion of that magic that makes them so beloved by children.


Despite the controversy, Mattel and ToyTalk both insist there is nothing to worry about, with Mattel releasing a public statement addressing the online backlash:

"Mattel and its partners, such as ToyTalk, take a number of steps to ensure all of our products conform with applicable laws and standards, including the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act."

Martin Reddy, Chief Technical Officer at ToyTalk, expanded on the statement with the following:

"We are extremely concerned with the privacy, security and safety of the kids' data," said Martin Reddy, ToyTalk's Chief Technical Officer "We don't share any of those (audio) clips with Mattel and we certainly don't use any of that content to advertise or market to kids. In fact, we would be breaking the law if we did that, so we won't do that."

Neither statement, however, has been enough to subdue the crowds of concerned parents and groups. The online backlash still carries on with full force and I for one support it fully. AI in general is in murky waters right now, and has no place being integrated into children's toys. The storage and analysis of the data is just the tip of the iceberg.



Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. Currently working as Editor of Social Songbird, he hopes to one day drop that 'aspiring' prefix. Follow him @SamAtSMF


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#HellNoBarbie Campaign Voices Concerns over #Child #Surveillance Reviewed by Sam Bonson on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 Rating: 5

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