Do you sometimes feel like you’re being watched, or listened to? Don’t worry, it’s not Big Brother, it’s just Barbie.
…Or at least, that’s the fear of many adults with the announcement of Mattel’s latest update on the classic Barbie model, a toy that has been a staple for little girls since the fifties. In just months, “Hello Barbie” will be available for parents to bring home to their little technophiles. What makes her to up-to-date, and yet so unsettling to some, you may ask? Not only is she equipped with a cute, Barbie-appropriate outfit and tshirt stamped with “hello hello hello,” she also comes with rechargable batteries in each leg and a wirelessly-accessible necklace.
This new, ‘improved’ Barbie can now not only listen in on your child’s playtime, but record, learn, and respond. Embedded into the doll is a tiny microphone, which is activated with a button on her LED light-up necklace. Akin to popular talking toys of the past, Barbie is able to ask friendly questions, like what your child wants to be when they grow up. Only now, when your child answers, the response is sent to a web processor where the audio records are analyzed and processed. In this way, Barbie is able to “learn” about your child, and can pose the appropriate follow-up questions regarding things that have been established as their “favorites!”
But is this too far? The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has launched a full-blown campaign to keep “Hello Barbie” off the shelves and out of homes, worrying that not only could she hear too much, but say too much as well. Some parents describe her as “creepy,” but she could also present an opportunity for stealth marketing…or urging her playmate to ask parents for the latest hot pink Barbie convertible!