Mattel has announced plans to release a new technologically advanced Barbie doll that makes use of wi-fi to have real-time conversations with its users.
The doll, called “Hello, Barbie” operates by a button children can press to ask it questions. A microphone embedded in the doll records the question, which is sent to San Francisco-based startup ToyTalk. The company records the information and sends a response in an effort to let children have a relationship with the toy.
Not everyone thinks the interactive doll is a good idea. Advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood recently started a petition in an effort to stop the toy from reaching shelves. A portion of the petition reads:
“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.”
So far, the petition has close to 6,000 signatures.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, CCFC Director Susan Linn claimed the recordings make children “sitting ducks” for “sneaky advertising.”
Meanwhile, ToyTalk chief executive Oren Jacob remains firm in his stance that the audio files collected are “never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff.” In addition, Mattel has publicly backed the toy, believing it is what children want to play with, writes Leigh Weingus for The Huffington Post.
“Mattel has always been at the forefront of inspiring conversations between girls and their dolls beginning with Chatty Cathy in the late 1950’s. The number one request we receive from girls globally is to have a conversation with Barbie, and with Hello Barbie we are making that request a reality,” Stephanie Cota, SVP, Global Communications said.
In a recent study performed by researchers at Georgetown University, two groups of toddlers were observed. The first group played with plush toys preprogrammed to say the child’s name, and had the same favorite foods and song as the child, while the second group played with plush toys that referred to the children as “pal” and had different likes. Children were then presented with on-screen math skills shown by the same character. Researchers discovered that the group of children who had played with the preprogrammed, personalized toys performed better than the second group, reports Natasha Singer for The New York Times.
Founded in 2011, ToyTalk produces a number of apps used for conversational purposes, such as the Winston Show and SpeakaZoo. The apps are used by young children in an effort to allow them to have real conversations with make-believe characters.
The toy is set to reach stores this fall.