Eavesdropping Barbie?

By on March 17th, 2015 in Articles, Privacy & Security, Robotics, Societal Impact

So should children have toys that can combine speech recognition with a Wi-Fi connection to capture and respond to them, and that potentially are able to record their conversations as well as feed them “messages”?  Welcome to the world of Hello Barbie.

Perhaps I spend too much time thinking about technology abuse … but let’s see.  There are political/legal environments (think 1984 and it’s current variants) where capturing voice data from a doll/toy/IoT device could be used as a basis for arrest and jail (or worse) — can  Barbie be called as a witness in court? And of course there are the “right things to say” to a child, like “I like you”  (dolls with pull strings do that), and things you may not want to have your doll telling your child (“You know I just love that new outfit” or “Wouldn’t I look good in that new Barbie car?”) or worse (“Your parents aren’t going to vote for that creep are they?).

What does a Hello Barbie doll do when a child is clearly being abused by a parent? Can it contact 9-1-1? Are the recordings available for prosecution? What is abuse that warrants action? And what liability exists for failure to report abuse?

Barbie Update

Hello Barbie is covered in the New York Times 28 March 2015 Sunday Business section wherein it is noted that children under 13 have to get parental permission to enable the conversation system — assuming they understand the implications. Apparently children need to “press a microphone button on the app” to start interaction. Also, “parents … have access to … recorded conversations and can … delete them.”  Which confirms that a permanent record is being kept until parental action triggers deletion. Finally we are assured “safeguards to ensure that stored data is secure and can’t be accessed by unauthorized users.” Apparently Mattel and ToyTalk (the technology providers)  have better software engineers than Home Depot, Target, and Anthem.

Image: By Carlos Adampol Galindo from DF, México – Barbie, edición solterona.