Barbie Joins The Growing Chorus Of People And Devices Spying On You

from the let's-discuss-your-shopping-preferences,-susie dept

Samsung recently took a significant media beating after people actually bothered to read the company’s privacy policy, only to discover that the company’s “smart” TVs were collecting snippets of living room conversation and transmitting them to third parties for analysis. Samsung ultimately issued a blog post stating it was only collecting a limited amount of voice data to improve voice command functionality. Besides, said Samsung, if you don’t want your voice commands collected, you can disable the functionality (even though you lose some core TV features in the process).

Of course, while Samsung got the brunt of the public and media hysteria, many people didn’t seem to realize that nearly everything that takes voice commands (from your home automation system to your iPhone) already engages in this same behavior. Case in point: Mattel is taking more than a little heat for the company’s new “Hello Barbie,” which connects to Wi-Fi, and also records kids’ voice commands and routes them to an external server in order to improve voice command tech. In this video from February, Mattel shows how Barbie now stores your preferences and even provides career advice:

Groups like Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood weren’t impressed, and see this as the opening salvo in a disturbing trend in marketing to children:

“Imagine your children playing with a Wi-Fi-connected doll that records their conversations–and then transmits them to a corporation which analyzes every word to learn “all of [the child’s] likes and dislikes.” That?s exactly what Mattel?s eavesdropping ?Hello Barbie? will do if it is released this fall, as planned. But we can stop it!

Kids using “Hello Barbie”‘ won’t only be talking to a doll, they’ll be talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial. It’s creepy?and creates a host of dangers for children and families. Children naturally reveal a lot about themselves when they play. In Mattel?s demo, Barbie asks many questions that encourage kids to share information about their interests, their families, and more?information advertisers can use to market unfairly to children.”

While the CFCC works to keep the toy from store shelves, Mattel is promising that security and privacy has been their top priority while crafting a doll that learns what kids like:

“Mattel and ToyTalk, the San Francisco-based start-up that created the technology used in the doll, say the privacy and security of the technology have been their top priority. “Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards,” Mattel said in a statement.”

The problem is, we’ve seen repeatedly how the companies rushing face-first toward the billions in potential revenues from the “Internet of Things” market are so fixated on profit, that security and privacy have been afterthoughts — if a thought at all. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Smart TVs with trivial to non-existent security or easily hacked smart car tech, companies are showing again and again that privacy and security really aren’t paramount. That’s before we even discuss how this collected voice data creates a wonderful new target for nosy governments courtesy of the Third Party Doctrine.

So while some of this hysteria over what’s being collected probably veers into hyperbole territory, the cardboard-grade security and privacy standards most companies are adopting certainly create cause for concern. The good news I suppose: the “smarter” our products get, the bigger the market is for “dumb” products that just sit there and do what they’re supposed to do, whether that’s a television that just displays the damn signal sent to it or utterly insentient dolls that just shut up, smile and drink their fake tea.

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Companies: mattel

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Comments on “Barbie Joins The Growing Chorus Of People And Devices Spying On You”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards”

Dear Mattel,

Please list, with specificity and precision, the exact government standards and privacy legislation applying to gathering and processing of child speech via toys. For each country in which this or similar doll or toy is to be sold.

I am holding my breath, please hurry.


Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:


Is that the standard that allows your local DMV to sell your name and address to anyone willing to pay for the information?

Or, is that the standard that allows websites to track your behavior so closely that one father found out his daughter was pregnant because some retailer (Target?) suddenly started sending discount coupons for baby clothes and diapers?

Or, is that the standard where the US government breaks encryption in such a way that merely checking your bank balance via HTTPS allows a ‘man in the middle’ attack?

I was going to hold my breath, but I am already blue!

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:


I am so glad that I am old enough that the technology to eavesdrop on my toys did not exist when I was young. If my Etch-a-Sketch had been connected I might have been in real trouble.

Seriously though, what parent would want Mattel to give their daughters (maybe gender neutral as the tech providing company is probably working on action figures (boys dolls) as well) career advise?

What happens if a child start talking about their parents medical problems? Will HIPPA be enforced? And when, AFTER the recording company learns about it, or before? I can see a child talking to their ‘bestest friend’ about problems in the home, as they don’t know any better.

The world needs to take a good look at data collection and make the determination that it belongs to the individual that the data is about, and prevent any data collection that (even with metadata) can be identifiable. The punishment for such collection should be of such a nature that companies are destroyed and multiple responsible executives and boards of directors spend multiple decades in SuperMax prisons with hard core criminals (rather than white collar country clubs).

I don’t have children, but my brother do. They are now too old to play with such toys, but their children are about ripe. OMG I feel sorry for them if we don’t fix this now.

Anonymous Coward says:


But also think of all the adults who carry tracking devices 100x more invasive than this doll. Sure, children are easily manipulable and irrational thinkers but most of them have the benefit of a parent or guardian that has the final say to what they can use.

Mattel and other companies are the easy targets, and they must be held to the highest standards of transparency and disclosure. But there are much bigger problems that can’t be solved as easily as in this case, which is simply not buying the product.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Math is hard

How about tea party barbie, comes complete with its own bible and flag.

Tea party barbie will always be ranting about some made up outrage, and one can keep up to date with the latest and greatest fear mongering with free downloads from Fox.

This would be awesome if there were a misogynist Ken to go with tea party barbie. Together they could berate all kinds of minoritiy barbies.

Hey, they could have a Ferguson barbie, shot up and bloodied by the roid raging police force.

mmrtnt (profile) says:

Bright Side

    The good news I suppose: the “smarter” our products get, the bigger the market is for “dumb” products that just sit there and do what they’re supposed to do, whether that’s a television that just displays the damn signal sent to it or utterly insentient dolls that just shut up, smile and drink their fake tea.

Idly looking at big screen TVs lately, I realized the non-smart versions sell for about $200 less. That’s $200 you could use to put together a simple HTTPC (Home Theater PC) with Linux and avoid all the app nonsense from Roku, Samsung etc.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Features of NSA Barbie

So what are the features of the new NSA Barbie?

* No lips, so as to not leak secrets.
* Spies on everyone, even Ken.
* Has a form letter to be given to deny all FOIA requests.
* Has a Constitution carpet to wipe her feet on.
* Has a heap of documents, all fully redacted.
* Package includes a cardboard cutout Senator doll in boot-licking position.
* Package contains a folding cardboard zettabyte data center.
* Package contains a folding cardboard work center with neon blue lighting.
* Automatically takes over every wireless device in your house.
* Trains your child to be a citizen “helper”.
* Reports all findings to the real NSA.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


“Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards,” Mattel said in a statement.”

First, if we take PR people at their word then every company in existence is “committed to safety and security”. Saying that means nothing whatsoever.

Second, conforming to applicable government standards is far from reassuring. Applicable government standards provide very nearly no privacy protections.

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