A new Barbie is set to hit the market this fall, just in time for the 2016 holiday season, and she wants to spy on your child. Mattel, in conjunction with ToyTalk, Inc., has created Hello Barbie, the doll that will have real conversations with your child via Wi-Fi internet and voice recognition technology, the prototype of which was rolled out at New York’s Toy Fair on Valentine’s Day.
ToyTalk, the creator of interactive apps such as the Winston Show, SpeakaLegend, and SpeakaZoo, is a high-tech company in the business of speech recognition. Hello Barbie will contain a microphone that will broadcast, onto a remote server, your child’s voice and store everything she says on a cloud for infinity. A spokeswoman for Barbie says, “Hello Barbie will remember and get to know my likes and dislikes.” Perhaps a child’s dream but a parent’s nightmare.
Never mind assurances from the manufacturer that their server is secure or that it is all done under the guise of child research and improved voice recognition software. This is downright creepy. But the implications for misuse are even scarier. What happens when Barbie is hacked and some pervert tells your child to, “Come outside.” I shudder to think of what other type of despicable things could happen. If backwards North Korea can hack into Sony’s secure server, as the FBI tells us (wink wink), surely the cloud that holds your child’s recordings will be vulnerable to cyber attacks.
But let’s be honest here. Not only are a team of tech researchers going to listen to your children, they are going to be recording forever conversations that occur in your home simply through osmosis, just as your television and smart appliances do.
But Hello Barbie isn’t the first app to interactively play with your child. Talking Angela is an animated cat app by Outfit7 and is part of its Talking Tom and Friends series that has more than 230 million monthly active users since its release in 2010. Purportedly this app was the infamous victim of a Facebook hoax that warned parents that it was being run by pedophiles.
Talking Angela asks the users’ name, age, what they like doing at school, etc. Although this app comes with a parental gate, the number of actual parents that read the fine print is miniscule and the number of children who have the technological savvy to turn it off are legion.
And can we logically expect parents who download apps on their own iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhones without ever reading the legal terms to bother to read what these technological games are collecting and doing with children? Not likely. I can just imagine a frantic parent hurriedly downloading one of these game apps to appease a distracting child without ever thinking about the surveillance and safety implications. And this is what all these apps are counting on.
As reported in a Huffington Post article about talking doll Cayla, an internet connected doll designed to communicate with children via speech recognition, is easily hacked. Security researcher Ken Munro says, “It’s fairly easy to hack into the doll and program her to say words from the dreaded naughty list.”
As long as people continue to view technology as completely innocuous, they will remain victims of the larger data gathering agenda that is afoot in our nation. I was instantly struck when I visited ToyTalk’s website by this creepy cartoon character in full Illuminati regalia from its SpeakaLegend game.
One must ask himself, out of all of the animated characters that could have been created, why a one-eyed cyclops, or for those in the know, the all seeing eye of Horus, with a pyramid atop its head? Then there is the sheep, or sheeple, looking to their “god” for protection.
Use with parental discretion.