A new Barbie doll has been designed to record and store conversations it has with children. The recordings will be analyzed by researchers who say they will use the data to make the toy’s responses more complete.
“Whatever we come away with as our first blush attempt at the conversations, we’ll see what kids want to talk about or not. We’ll take our honest best guess at that and then see what comes back, and then that will change and evolve over time as those conversations happen between individual children and Barbie dolls,” Oren Jacob, CEO of ToyTalk said in a recent statement.
However, security experts have raised concerns about how else that information could be used.
“It wouldn’t take much for a malicious individual to intercept either the wi-fi communications from the phone or tablet, or connect to the doll over Bluetooth directly. These problems aren’t difficult to solve; the manufacturer needs to check the phone application carefully to make sure it’s secure. They also need to check that any information sent by the doll to their online systems is protected,” Ken Munro, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners said.
The company responded to these concerns with a statement, saying that:
“While we’re familiar with the Cayla doll and with what happened in terms of a privacy breach, Hello Barbie is fundamentally different on many levels. As with all of ToyTalk’s products–we started with apps for kids–online privacy and security is of utmost importance. That’s why we ask for parental consent and agreement to use their kids’ speech, anonymously, to add to our database in order to increase Barbie’s conversational capabilities. To address the issue of being able to intercept the wi-fi communications or connect Barbie via Bluetooth, all communications take place over a secured TLS (HTTPS) network and it’s not possible to connect her via Bluetooth. Further Barbie connects directly to ToyTalk servers–not via an outside app with local data stored on it. And no back doors are being added to the app, to further avoid access issues.”
The problem they are not addressing is that they will be recording the conversations of children. Children do not have a fully functioning filter to know what they should and should not be talking about to what is a stranger. They don’t know who will be listening to them or what is going to happen with those conversations.
Children also have a habit of telling their dolls, stuffed animals and figurines confidential stuff they do not wish to share with anyone else.
This is yet another example of surveillance microphones attempting to get their foot in the door to our homes. We already have to be leery of Xbox Kinect, Amazon Echo, Samsung Smart TV and everything else listed in the Internet of Things.