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Mattel's wifi Barbie could be used to spy on children

A new version of the doll sends recordings back to the manufacturer

Hazel Sheffield
Wednesday 18 March 2015 11:24 GMT
'Hello Barbie' will be priced at £50 ($74.99)
'Hello Barbie' will be priced at £50 ($74.99) (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Barbie gets a makeover later this year when Mattel releases the first wifi connected doll, alarming critics who say that it could be used to spy on children.

'Hello Barbie' uses wifi to 'talk' to children, play interactive games and tell stories.

But child protection advocates have raised the alarm that a concealed microphone, activated by a button on the doll's belt, could be used to record children's likes and dislikes and send that information back to Mattel via wifi.

“They should call it Surveillance Barbie,” said Susan Linn, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which is lobbying for the doll to be scrapped.

“Kids talking to Hello Barbie aren’t just talking to a doll,” she said. “They’re talking to Mattel...a multinational corporation whose only interest in them is financial.”

The doll, which will be priced at £50 ($74.99), comes with a consent form for parents. ToyTalk, a San-Francisco based started up behind the microphone technology, said in a statement that recordings will be used to develop better speech recognition for children.

ToyTalk said conversations will not be monitored in real time. It insisted in a statement that it would “comply with legal reporting requirements that are presented to us, as do other online services."

Parents can however access audio files recorded on the doll online, raising fears about hacking and spying.

“Parents who sign that permission...are basically allowing corporate surveillance in their homes,” Lin told Newsweek.

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