Barbie kayaks, tends to sick animals and otherwise lives it up as America's most iconic and glamorous doll. But does she also spy on kids' conversations?
That's what one consumer advocacy group contends, saying Mattel's (MAT) new "Hello Barbie" figure could let the company collect information about children and their families and use it for marketing purposes without their consent.
The WiFi-enabled doll, which is expected to become commercially available this fall, uses an embedded microphone to record kids' speech and voice-recognition technology so Barbie can ask, and respond to, questions.
Such "eavesdropping" will allow Mattel to amass a database of children's likes and dislikes, according to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Technology, calling Hello Barbie "seriously creepy." It also claims the toy represents a privacy risk because the recordings are transmitted over the Internet.
"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," said Georgetown University law professor Angela Campbell in a statement released by the group. "In Mattel's demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests and her family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children."
The group wants Mattel to put Hello Barbie back in its box, and it has organized an online petition urging the company to halt production of the doll.
Mattel, which introduced Hello Barbie at last month's toy fair in New York, says it is simply responding to girls' desire to have a conversation with the doll.
"Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards, including the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act," Stephanie Cota, senior vice president of global communications with the company, said in a statement. "Additionally, Hello Barbie's technology features a number of safeguards to ensure that stored data is secure and can't be accessed by unauthorized users."