A display of Barbie dolls. File photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo
EL SEGUNDO, Calif., March 11 (UPI) -- Privacy advocates are concerned about the latest doll from Mattel called Hello Barbie which records conversations of children.
The $74.99 doll was introduced at the New York toy fair with the newest tech-enhanced blonde asking, "I love New York! Don't you? Tell me, what's your favorite part about the city? The food, fashion or the sights?"
Hello Barbie has a microphone in her belt and voice-recognition software which will enable the doll to "listen" to children's responses. Over time, the doll will learn to respond and remember such things like the dog's name and the child's favorite topics.
Children's responses to the doll's questions are carried over WiFi to a cloud-based server where they can be kept for up to two years. Parents of children with Hello Barbie will eventually be able to access the conversations the doll has with their child. Mattel maintains it is just finally providing a much-anticipated product.
"The No. 1 request we receive from girls globally is to have a conversation with Barbie, and with Hello Barbie we are making that request a reality," Stephanie Cota, Mattel's senior vice president of global communications, told USA Today in a statement.
Privacy advocates, on the other hand, see the dolls as an invasion of privacy during the important formative act of playtime.
"This is really about Mattel eavesdropping on a child's heart and soul -- and the most intimate things about their lives," says Susan Linn executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.
In addition to the worries about parents invading a child's playtime, there are also concerns about the use of the recorded conversations for analysis and marketing by the company.
"If I had a young child, I would be very concerned that my child's intimate conversations with her doll were being recorded and analyzed," Angela Campbell, faculty adviser at Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Technology, said in a statement to the Washington Post.
Oren Jacob, CEO of Mattel's tech partner on the project ToyTalk, stressed that parental permission is needed for any of the recording to be used for enhancement of future models and the data would never be used for marketing.
Mattel has been trying to boost the sales of the classic doll after seeing gross sales shrink 16 percent from 2013-2014 as children move to more tech and gadgets.