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Mattel’s New Barbie is Listening to You

Hello Barbie is a data-collecting monster.

The most outrageous thing about Mattel’s new Hello Barbie—besides the $74.99 price tag and the Eurocentric beauty standards it represents—is that the doll won’t just “listen” to your children—it will also record conversations and pass them along to ToyTalk, the company that builds the voice recognition software inside the doll. Hello Barbie is equipped with a microphone and Wifi connectivity, allowing it to save and archive information it gathers from exchanges it has with your children.

This function is meant to refine and improve the quality of the doll’s responses—it’s not long before the doll “knows” your kid’s name and can address them directly. The great thing about all this is it will help prepare your child for a lifetime of surveillance, not just by their government, but by data-collecting corporations looking for new and innovative ways to advertise and exploit consumers. You’ve got to start them young.

Although ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob assured Quartz that “no data collected can nor will be used for marketing, advertising, nor publicity purposes,” he doesn’t address principal concerns vis-à-vis privacy. According to their Privacy Policy, not only do they “store and process” information—by recording and transcribing conversations—they also reserve the right to share that information with “vendors, consultants, and other service providers.” They would also share that information with government agencies if they “believe in good faith that we are lawfully authorized or required to do so.” This particular policy relies on the discretion and flawed human judgment of ToyTalk’s employees.

As corporations endeavor to make products that are increasingly user-specific, we inch closer and closer to a future in which our identities are not much more than a set of numbers being passed from cloud server to cloud server (that’s how cloud servers work, right?). And this is exactly why so many people may have difficulty mustering sufficient outrage over Mattel’s data-collecting dolls—or over Samsung’s “listening” televions or over mass NSA surveillance—because we already hand over the bulk of that information willingly, be it through our social media usage or through our own self-surveillance. But kids reading M.T. Andersen’s dystopian novel about corporate tyranny and data-mining won’t have trouble recognizing present realities.

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