Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mattel's WIFI Eavesdropping Barbie - "Hello Barbie"

If you're a child of the 80s you remember the fuzzy owl-like Furby and the huge "spying" scandal they caused, when people thought the Chinese-manufactured toys that were pre-recorded in China were recording conversations around them.  Now, those were pre-recorded dolls, say hello to Mattel's new hello-Barbie. 

It's the Furby on steroids. She's the super snooping, talking, recording Barbie. Wait, she gets better. As long as Barbie is turned on, it will report your cell phone's location, whatever cell phone you've registered to the doll - for the wi-fi purposes of course. Think about the information our Government can glean from this information, you church activity, grocery store location, errands you run, doctor visits, friend's homes, etc, and all without the need of a warrant.

It’s not just your location that can be tracked by law enforcement, but your use of data too.

Mattel wants to get in on this “spying” action with its new Barbie doll. Due out in the fall of 2015, the Hello Barbie will record your child’s voice then send the data to the company.  The information will be used for marketing.

Your child's talking Barbie doll may be eavesdropping on all your private conversations.

Mattel's new "Hello Barbie," which was unveiled last month, is a smart doll that has a microphone and Wi-Fi connectivity so it can host two-way conversations with children. The doll takes children's words and sends them over the Internet to a cloud where voice-recognition software listens to compose the perfect response for the doll to reply with.

Not only does the process seem creepy, but it might be illegal and it's raising privacy concerns among parents.

Hello Barbie's voice-recognition feature might be violating the regulations under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which sets strict rules for obtaining information from minors online. The law, which was passed in April 2000, prohibits the collection of information from children under the age of 13, unless there is parental consent.

Oren Jacob, CEO of ToyTalk, the company that co-created Hello Barbie, said the Barbie doesn't violate any laws.

"All of ToyTalk's products in market have been designed to meet or exceed the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and have also been independently verified as such by KidSAFE+," Jacob told The Register. "While the underlying technology of our products works much like Siri, Google Now and Cortana, ToyTalk products never search the open web for answers. Responses are carefully crafted by our own writing team, and conversations recorded through our products are never used to advertise or market to children or anyone."

"Works much like Siri" except that Siri isn't recording and remembering our child's responses and Siri isn't being fed "updated data," by a third party, to stay relevant, in order to get more information from our children, so that this doll becomes their "best friend."  Hmmmm does that remind anyone else of a doll named Chucky? That didn't end well either, did it?

Imagine your children playing with a Wi-Fi-connected doll that records their conversations–and then transmits them to a corporation which analyzes every word to learn “all of [the child’s] likes and dislikes.” That’s exactly what Mattel’s eavesdropping “Hello Barbie” will do if it is released this fall, as planned. But we can stop it!

Kids using “Hello Barbie”‘ won’t only be talking to a doll, they’ll be talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial. It’s creepy—and creates a host of dangers for children and families.

Children naturally reveal a lot about themselves when they play. In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that encourage kids to share information about their interests, their families, and more—information advertisers can use to market unfairly to children.

In a day of on-line predators and identify theft, what could possibly go wrong? 
Want to see how many sex offenders and predators are in your neighborhood, for free? See if your state has a Sexual Offenders and Predators database. For example, here's Florida's FDLE searchable database This is why putting our children's recorded information out there, for the world to harvest and prey upon may not be the smartest decision.  However, there will be parents that won't see the threat in a "harmless" doll, only the novelty. Parents like 8-year-old Cherish Periwinkle's, may she rest in peace, who will be oblivious to the danger, until it's too late.  

 "She can listen, learn and adapt."  

"She stays relevant and up to date."

"She can also remember [records your child's responses], like a true friend."

"We can push new data to her." [depending on the information we want to get from your kids]

The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood explains:

Mattel has been in trouble lately.  For the third year in a row, Barbie sales are down.  The company is scrambling to revive Barbie, as the market has changed to reflect kids growing up faster and the appeal of movie character dolls.  Mattel needs the data of your little girl’s thoughts and feelings to figure out how to increase profits. The company doesn’t care about your child’s privacy.

The Hello Barbie may actually be illegal.  Popular Science explains:

Unveiled last month, Hello Barbie is a clever toy with a little bit of an over sharing problem. With a microphone, Hello Barbie can listen to what children tell it. With a computer and a Wi-Fi connection, Hello Barbie can take those words, encrypt them, and then send them over the internet to a cloud server where voice recognition software listens to the recording and then picks a reply for Hello Barbie to send back. Only there’s a minor hitch: it might be illegal to record children and then store that information elsewhere.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which became law in April 2000, sets out strict rules for obtaining information from minors online. These rules prohibit the collection of information from children under the age of 13 unless there is parental consent, plus a way for the parents to find out what information was collected and then obtain that information, or unless the information is used to respond to the child as a one-off and isn’t stored in a retrievable way.

It is bad enough that adult technology has taken away our privacy, but to design toys that do the same simply to increase profits is abominable.
It's not bad enough that Obama wants our doctors to ask our children if "there are guns in our home," but this "harmless" doll has the potential to become even scarier, because of its wi-fi connect-ability and the fact that it can record your child's conversations. However, who is on the other end retrieving the information, and for what purpose?  Lois Lerner was allowed to plead the 5th, but your child is squealing on you, to her new best friend for $19.95 plus tax.

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