Opinion: Is Mattel’s new Barbie the next Big Brother?

Carley Hull is a senior news major and columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact her at chull9@kent.edu.

Carley Hull is a senior news major and columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]

Carley Hull

The Barbie doll has been involved in controversies for years regarding her unrealistic figure and sexist portrayals, but Mattel’s new doll “Hello Barbie” could potentially be the most controversial and frightening Barbie yet.

Mattel debuted the doll in February at the 2015 American International Toy Fair in New York. According to a Mattel representative at the fair, “Hello Barbie” was developed to create a two-way dialogue between the child and the doll by allowing the doll to ask the child questions and record answers using Wi-Fi that are sent to a cloud server. When the answers reach the cloud server, voice recognition technology helps the doll understand the data, allowing the doll to remember what the child said.

“She’ll be able to listen to each girl’s preferences and adapt to those accordingly,” the Mattel rep said. “Best of all, this is cool, she’s got Wi-Fi capabilities so all the content is stored up in the cloud, and we can actually push new data to her so she is constantly staying relevant and up to date.”

Can you image a world where your child’s doll can remember and record what your child says, not just on a portable microphone, but also on a server other people have access to. I thought the fictional “Talky Tina” doll from “The Twilight Zone” was terrifying, but she has nothing on the power “Hello Barbie” could have. 

“Hello Barbie” could know your address, your phone number, your family member’s names, what you like to eat for dinner, the list goes on. The fact that Mattel can also program information for Barbie to say to a child is a problem too. Parents shouldn’t have to monitor what a doll says to their child, and I can’t help but wonder if Barbie could be used to influence the child to buy products or support certain political campaigns. “Hello Barbie” is the creepiest thing I have ever heard of, and I am not alone in that feeling.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood worries that the toy makes children vulnerable to advertising efforts. “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,” Director Susan Linn said in a statement. The CCFC launched a petition against Mattel that has already gained over 4900 signatures.

It’s no secret that companies collect our information when we use the Internet and try to cater advertisements to us. It doesn’t seem right, but we often unknowingly accept it as adults. Although the company ToyTalk that partnered with Mattel to create the doll’s technology said the data would never used for marketing or publicity gains and Mattel stated the doll meets government standards, I have my doubts as to the safety and invasiveness of the doll.

I don’t think it is ethical to expose a child to something that could collect private information and potentially allow bad people to target children by hacking their information.  I am also concerned about the authority Mattel has over the information, even if parents can access the information online. Will we live in a world where buying a Barbie doll is an automatic contract to allow privacy invasion during children’s playtime? I sure hope not.

Contact Carley Hull at [email protected].