What Did You Say? Barbie Wants to Know ;)
Parental consent to play with toys isn’t new.
Whether the kids are eating dirt, playing with bb guns or hacking the latest video games, parents’ consent, lack thereof or just plain inattention is integrated to child’s play. Whether you care or not what your child does, the parents definitely impact the child development through play. If that’s not enough reason for you, there is also the legal fine print.
She’s been controversial since her birth in 1959. Her more-than-girlish figure inspired by the German Bild Lilli doll has provided decades of amusement for girls (and boys), but she has also represented generations of arguments and issues as to whether she stands for chauvinistic and unrealistic physical expectations versus innocent girl companion. And now the flames reignite, quite possibly where you might expect today – in the cloud.
Although not as creepy as Chuckie, Barbie now speaks to her child owner. No longer a pre-recorded suite of answers, Hello Barbie listens to whatever your child says. Actually, she not only records it all, she also uploads the data to the cloud where algorithms gonkulate how Barbie keeps conversation. She keeps tracks your likes and dislikes, keeps up to date on events and trends, and yes, she even makes recommendations.
The Fine Print
Prior to using Barbie’s eloquent tête-à-tête, parents have to connect via app and acquiesce to the three-paragraph consent form. Contrary to early accusations, Barbie isn’t “always on,” akin to a Big Brother Barbie model. Recording requires the participant to press a button, and that by no mistake, constitutes consent according to Barbie’s legal representation.
Not a Fan
The child advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood claimed Hello Barbie is “creepy” and began a petition to prevent her from making it into stores in the fall. It is possible, like any device, Hello Barbie could be hacked and someone could interject inappropriate or perhaps even criminal intent. Mattel contends that Hello Barbie is safe and complies with all applicable regulations, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Do You Like Talking to Barbie?
Although she hasn’t been released for sale, Hello Barbie is everywhere already. She’s just the latest version of the plethora of sensors that continuously extract, transfer and load your personal information everyday. “Hello Barbie” can be your cell phone telling you the traffic, or the advertisements that pop up in your browser from your latest request of the oracle (Google). We are excited when we get the answer to a search with less time than expected, and we are delighted when we get back more insight or information than we had hoped to receive. Hello Barbie is just the simple version – “dumbed down” as it were – for children.
Was Hello Barbie created with the intent to amass volumes of innocent children’s dreams and aspirations and rants and raves and secrets? It’s highly unlikely. The primary consideration was “harmlessly” the corporate responsibility to increase shareholders’ value. Barbie sales have significantly declined.
Are there other controversies as to the social consequences of artificially created conversation with an inanimate object? Yes. But is that really any different from a pioneer girl in the wilderness treating a well-formed (and well imagined) handkerchief as her best friend? Technology has changed but imagination is a basic childhood right.