Internet of Things Barbie Could Let Hackers Spy On Children

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

A new WiFi Barbie doll presents parents with a new set of online security worries

Toy maker Mattel has triggered fresh privacy and security worries for parents with the development of a Wi-Fi connected Barbie doll.

The doll, called ‘Hello Barbie’, was unveiled at the New York Toy Fair at the weekend, and is designed to remember what kids have said, and hold realistic two-way conversations with their owners.

Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!

Mattel developed the “smart doll” in conjunction with a San Francisco-based startup, ToyTalk. The idea is that the next generation Barbie doll will allow owners to play interactive games, joke around, and hold two-way conversations thanks to ToyTalk’s speech-recognition platform.

“The number one request we hear from girls around the world is that they want to have a conversation with Barbie. Now, for the first time ever, Barbie can have a two-way conversation,” a spokeswoman for Mattel was quoted as saying by the BBC.

So how does it work?

Fotolia: Technology Security © freshidea #39053413Well, reportedly kids will interact with the doll thanks to a microphone and speaker located on Barbie’s necklace. Her legs house rechargeable batteries to allow play for an hour, before a recharge is needed. A hold-to-talk button on her belt buckle ensures the doll is responding only to a child’s commands.

Barbie’s script is written by Mattel and ToyTalk employees, and a smartphone app apparently connects the doll to the Internet. Once the doll is connected to the Internet, the child can talk to the doll and their words are sent to ToyTalk’s secure server.

The companies will reportedly uses these “saved conversations” to discover what the kids are saying to their dolls, and what kind of responses need to generated. And these interactions will also feed a cloud database of the owner’s likes and dislikes, which will be incorporated in the conversations.

Privacy Worries

Of course, this is bound to trigger fresh parental concern at the security and privacy implications, espicially with an Internet-connected toy that houses a microphone.

But ToyTalk reportedly states that parents have many controls over their child’s interactions with the doll. For example, parents can decide what topics are off limits for their kids.

The smart Barbie will reportedly steer the conversation away from those banned topics. And parents can also request to have their child’s information deleted from ToyTalk’s databases.

The Hello Barbie doll is expected to hit the market later this year and go on sale for $74.99 (£49).

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