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Big Barbie Is Watching You: Meet The WiFi-Connected Doll that Talks to Your Kids & Records Them

Submitted by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

Earlier this month, I highlighted the fact that the latest Samsung Smart TV can and will listen to your conversations, and will share the details with a third party in the post: A Very Slippery Slope – Yes, Your Samsung Smart TV Can Listen to Your Private Conversations.

Well a couple of weeks later, and we learn that Mattel’s latest high-tech Barbie doll will bring the “internet of things” right into your child’s playpen. From the The Register:

Toymaker Mattel has unveiled a high-tech Barbie that will listen to your child, record its words, send them over the internet for processing, and talk back to your kid. It will email you, as a parent, highlights of your youngster’s conversations with the toy.

 

If Samsung’s spying smart TVs creeped you out, this doll may be setting off alarm bells too – so we drilled into what’s going on.

 

The Hello Barbie doll is developed by San Francisco startup ToyTalk, which says it has more than $31m in funding from Greylock Partners, Charles River Ventures, Khosla Ventures, True Ventures and First Round Capital, and others.

 

Its Wi-Fi-connected Barbie toy has a microphone, a speaker, a small embedded computer with a battery that lasts about an hour, and Wi-Fi hardware. When you press a button on her belt buckle, Barbie wakes up, asks a question, and turns on its microphone while the switch is held down.

 

The doll is loaded up with scripts to read, and one of these is selected depending on what the kid said. If the tyke shows an interest in a particular past-time or thing, the doll’s backend software will know to talk about that – giving the kid the impression that chatty Barbie’s a good, listening friend.

 

Crucially, the recorded audio of children’s voices (and whatever else happens to be going on around them when they push the buckle button) is kept on ToyTalk’s computers. This material is supposed to help Mattel and ToyTalk improve Barb’s scripted replies. It’s also good test data for developing the voice-recognition code.The ToyTalk privacy policy page, dated last April well before Hello Barbie was revealed this week, states:

 

When users interact with ToyTalk, we may capture photographs or audio or video recordings (the “Recordings”) of such interactions, depending upon the particular application being used.

 

We may use, transcribe and store such Recordings to provide and maintain the Service, to develop, test or improve speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms, and for other research and development or internal purposes.

 

We may make such Recordings available to the parent account holder and permit the parent account holder to share such Recordings with third parties.

 

By using Hello Barbie, parents agree to these terms. It’s not clear how long the recordings stay on ToyTalk’s systems.

You’ve been warned: Big Barbie is Watching You.

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For related articles, see:

A Very Slippery Slope – Yes, Your Samsung Smart TV Can Listen to Your Private Conversations

Big Brother is Coming to Healthcare – How Hospitals are Entering Your Credit Card Info Into Algorithms

Big Brother is Coming…To Your Brokerage Account

Retail Big Brother – Mannequins Are Now Using Facial Recognition Technology

Big Brother is Coming to Your Car

Mayor Bloomberg on Drones: “Oh it’s Big Brother. Get Used to it”