Do you remember when you were younger, and you had that one toy that you would carry around constantly? The one that never left your side, the one you had conversations with and just wished that they would be able to talk back? Well imagine if that toy did respond to your confessions and questions, all the while recording what you were saying and learning how to respond accordingly. Sounds a bit creepy now doesn’t it? But this is exactly want Mattel want to do. Celebrating her 56th birthday this year, Barbie has been a staple for many young children for generations. Now, parents want iconic doll out of their child’s hands and out of their homes.
The children that use this doll are unaware that everything they say to the doll is being listened to, and can be listened to by their parents. As well as this, if a child confides in the Barbie, it could be used as evidence in cases of child abuse. For example, if a child confides in the Barbie that their parents are hitting them or sexually abusing them, then there is a chance this data can hold up as evidence in court. There is also a potential for hacking, and although it’s hard to think that many people would want to hack into Barbie’s server, there is the possibility that data could be called upon in things such as a child custody battle, for example. Or further, and scarier still, the government reviewing a child’s conversation data to find evidence on something involving a parent, as when the recorder is turned on, there’s a chance it could catch background conversation. It may seem farfetched, but these are legitimate questions parents should be asking, and Mattel and ToyTalk answering, before they even consider letting Barbie hit the shelves.
On the flip side, a Talking Barbie could become a child’s new best friend. With thousands upon thousands of responses, Barbie’s voice is filled with emotion, she can tell jokes, and is able to pick up on certain key words that they then retain, such as “divorce”, allowing Barbie to steer through rough patches in the conversation and asking questions about the child and works accordingly. For example, Barbie asks the child their favourite colour, then says that that’s her favourite colour too, essentially giving a child a portable best friend. She is also supportive, and answers questions such as “Do you think I’m pretty?” with answers like “of course you’re pretty, but do you know what else you are? Smart, talented and funny”, possibly in answer to ongoing criticism that young girls exposed to Barbie’s suffer from self-esteem issues. Regardless, Barbie is the supportive, loving friend every child can have access to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Eventually, children will have a digital footprint, just like the rest of us, but it’s whether parents want to start that collection of data as early as four or five with the use of the Hello Barbie. What do you think? Would you let your child play with a Barbie that recorded what they were saying?
all images belong to Mattel