Jun 22

barbie

Talking Barbies are ushering in a new era of mass surveillance (Business Insider, June 20, 2015):

One of my great pleasures in life is attending conferences on fields I’m intrigued by, but know nothing about. (A second pleasure is writing about these events.) So when my friend Kate Crawford invited me to a daylong “Listening Machine Summit,” I could hardly refuse.

What’s a listening machine? The example of everyone’s lips was Hello Barbie, a version of the impossibly proportioned doll that will listen to your child speak and respond in kind. Here’s how The Washington Post described the doll back in March: “At a recent New York toy fair, a Mattel representative introduced the newest version of Barbie by saying: ‘Welcome to New York, Barbie.’ The doll, named Hello Barbie, responded: ‘I love New York! Don’t you? Tell me, what’s your favorite part about the city? The food, fashion, or the sights?’ Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Mar 13

Hello Barbie
Hello Barbie is displayed at the Mattel showroom at the North American International Toy Fair. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Privacy advocates try to keep ‘creepy,’ ‘eavesdropping’ Hello Barbie from hitting shelves (The Washington Post, March 11, 2015):

At a recent New York toy fair, a Mattel representative introduced the newest version of Barbie by saying: “Welcome to New York, Barbie.”

The doll, named Hello Barbie, responded: “I love New York! Don’t you? Tell me, what’s your favorite part about the city? The food, fashion or the sights?”

To revive the sinking sales of its flagship brand, Mattel is bringing Barbie to life with voice-recognition software that will allow the doll to “listen” to children speak and give chatty responses. It will learn over time, remembering your dog’s name and adjusting to new topics.

This WiFi-connected Barbie may soon be a hit among children used to tinkering with iPads, but children’s privacy advocates are crying foul. Hello Barbie may be more accurately called “eavesdropping” Barbie, says one advocacy group. Another popular description? Creepy.

Hello Barbie works by recording a child’s voice with an embedded microphone that is triggered by pressing a button on the doll. As the doll “listens,” audio recordings travel over the Web to a server where the snippets of speech are recognized and processed. That information is used to help form Hello Barbie’s responses.

“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. Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,