There’s a new Barbie doll coming out that will talk to your child – but it will also record everything he or she is saying. The new “Hello Barbie” by Mattel will transmit the recording to a cloud-based service called ToyTalk, which analyzes your child’s speech patterns and voice so the doll can give the appropriate responses when conversing with your kid. It’s a pint-sized best friend that doesn’t take much work or needs to be picked up after.
While this may sound innocent and innocuous – and even a little bit cool – it may be quite scary if you don’t want your kid’s conversations shared with the world. ToyTalk’s terms of service and private policy are anything but private, saying the company is allowed to “share audio recordings with third party vendors” who are assisting ToyTalk with speech recognition and analysis. ToyTalk may also use these recordings for research and development purposes that will help better their product’s value and the user’s experience.
While the latter sounds typical – and doesn’t really pose any security risks – the idea that these personal recordings are shared with outside vendors (who may or may not share them with others) may not sit well with parents, especially parents with children who can complete full sentences. Nonsensical mumblings are one thing, but what happens when a child uses the doll as a sounding board for their fears, their family drama or their secrets?
Yet if they do, not every parent is going to care. In fact, some parents are greatly anticipating the doll. All in all, some will worry about their children’s privacy and some won’t. It’s really just a matter of preference and comfortability.
While Mattel has given no release date for “Hello Barbie,” they are being aggressive with the process. “The normal life cycle for these things is 18 months to get to market, but this is happening much faster,” said ToyTalk’s CEO Oren Jacob. That’s because ToyTalk and Mattel are both excited and inspired when it comes to creating a talking Barbie doll, and Jacob is enjoying every minute of the experience. “What it means to write these conversations for a character with her history is such a joy and such a unique opportunity.”