Privacy is currently the biggest cause of unease around new technology and artificial intelligence and it is not surprising that products developed for children are starting to raise concerns around privacy as well.
Hello Barbie by Mattel is interactive, that is, it is supposed to have meaningful conversations with a child. In order to achieve this, it records what the child says and sends the information to the cloud, where Mattel can retrieve it, use it to let Barbie learn and talk back, but also to better define marketing campaigns and advertise directly to the children. The toy has been called “creepy” and renamed “eavesdropping” Barbie.
It does seem very creepy, not only for the easy to guess privacy concerns expressed by several organizations (see links to articles below) but also because childhood play is supposed to be creative and stimulate imagination. I wouldn’t want my child to play with a doll that talks back, kids have enough real interaction, they need to be able to make up imaginary ones.
For real playful conversation, I would want her/him to talk with a real person, preferably another child, who is unlikely to get any financial gain from the conversation.
Many parents spend time to review and monitor the TV show, books, video-games that they kids are exposed to, to ensure that they agree with the message their child receives, should we start monitoring dolls too?
What about hacking concerns? I truly hope that this product doesn’t sell and gets pulled off the market. In the meantime, it would be great to see some regulations over AI and privacy also for toys.