Barbie Doll That Talks ‘Smart’ Could Be Muted

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The new smart doll by makers Mattel has caused controversy. It is capable of intelligent conversation with a switch of a button. However Privacy advocates and others have raised concerns over its intimacy with the client. Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood intends to stop the launch expected this Christmas.

The clever doll sends your speech to voice recognition software in the cloud; where it gets processed and analysed by a third party- Toytalk for an immediate intelligent ( Artificial intelligence) response. It achieves this by remembering and recommending voice exchanges between itself and the child (user).

The privacy advocates accuse the interactive doll of asking too many intimate questions from children and then storing and sharing that information online.

According to a ToyTalk spokesperson: “ToyTalk and Mattel will only use the conversations recorded through Hello Barbie to operate and improve our products, to develop better speech recognition for children, and to improve the natural language processing of children’s speech.” In a demonstration it was asked : “what should I be when I grow”, “A Dancer or a Politician ?”. The response, after learning that the child likes to be on-stage was “A dancing politician”.  An intelligent answer it seems.
The Guardian reports:

“Kids using ‘Hello Barbie’ aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” said Susan Linn, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The group is attempting to stop the sale of the toy, which is scheduled for the Christmas rush this year. “It’s creepy – and creates a host of dangers for children and families.”

Before the toy can be used, parents must set up an account and agree to various privacy policies. The toy only listens to the child after a button on its buckle is pressed prompting it to ask a question. The audio recorded is encrypted before being sent over the internet.

According to ToyTalk’s privacy policy, the company shares audio recordings with third parties that “assist us with speech recognition” and that those third parties can keep any data derived from those audio files.

The voice recognition technology used by Mattel and ToyTalk operates in a similar manner to almost any other, including commonly used voice search functions. But a lack of user understanding, and the involvement of children, who are potentially incapable of understanding that their actions are being monitored, has raised concerns.

Edmondo Burr
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