Cool or Creepy? High-Tech Barbie Can Converse With Kids

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The Gift That Doesn't Need Batteries, Never Breaks and Can Change a Kid's Life

By Krystal Steinmetz

Mattel's new Hello Barbie can have a full-on conversation with your child. The toy doll talks and listens to your child and then transmits a recording of the conversation to a Web server where it can be analyzed. Mattel wants to have the doll, which employs Wi-Fi and voice-recognition software, on store shelves this fall.

This latest take on the iconic doll has some advocacy organizations concerned. Among them is the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which has launched a petition calling on Mattel to ditch the talking doll. "Kids using Hello Barbie' won't only be talking to a doll, they'll be talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial. It's creepy -- and creates a host of dangers for children and families. Children naturally reveal a lot about themselves when they play. In Mattel's demo, Barbie asks many questions that encourage kids to share information about their interests, their families, and more -- information advertisers can use to market unfairly to children."

Using Conversations for Marketing, Publicity Denied

ToyTalk, the San Francisco company that created the voice-recognition technology used in the doll, maintains that the audio files collected by Hello Barbie will be used to improve the doll and her responses, The Washington Post reports. "The data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff," ToyTalk chief executive Oren Jacob said. "Not at all." ToyTalk said parents can access their children's recordings as well.‚Äč

With profits plummeting (59 percent in the fourth quarter) and Barbie sales on the decline (21 percent), the toy company apparently sees the high-tech incarnation of Barbie as a possible path to recovery. "Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards," Mattel said in a statement to the Post.

I think the Barbie is super creepy. It reminds me too much of Chucky from the "Child's Play" movies, which gave me nightmares for years as a child. It's one thing to talk and play with a doll. It's entirely another thing to have the doll answer you and record your conversation to share with a third party.

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