“Hello Barbie” bothers me but not because she’s a potential corporate spy.

At this point I just assume wherever I am that I’m being recorded with either audio, video, or both.  Don’t you?  And more and more it seems plausible that the devices we have in our homes can easily be used to record our conversations without our knowledge or permission.  And speaking of recording everything we say…

Barbie has gotten a high-tech make-over, it seems:

“A spokeswoman for the toymaker Mattel said the company has received numerous requests for a Barbie doll that kids can actually talk to. With its latest product, Hello Barbie, kids will be able to tell the doll whatever’s on their mind and even hear Barbie’s response…The tech-enhanced version of the classic toy will be equipped with a microphone so that it can pick up the audio from what kids are saying. The words will then be transmitted back to a cloud server where the speech will be recorded and processed so Barbie can respond.”

Patrice Lewis at Rural Revolution is horrified by this doll and concludes:

The scope of potential abuse of this new toy boggles the mind. Only a stupid fool would have one of these dolls in their homes.

Patrice’s concerns center on the fact that this thing can be used to record everything that’s going on in the home.  But so much of what we have in our homes could already be used for that, and not just our laptops and i-Devices.  Wifi refrigerators and other appliances are already beginning to come onto the market; as IB2 noted, pretty much any product including your TV has the potential to be used to spy on you:

With the NSA, drones, and now wifi barbie, nobody is hiding anywhere. Ever again. If Elf on the Shelf isn’t watching you, that little camera on your laptop can be activated by any unemployed basement dweller with half a brain. There are tracking devices on our license plates, our money, our cell phones […] my TV was made in China and the little green light glows even when the thing is off. I assume the entire Chinese government is probably spying on me.

The most likely reason is for marketing purposes, but that’s small comfort.

The reason Hello Barbie bothers me isn’t because she can record the conversations going on at home. I mean, yes, that does bother me, but when even your kitchen appliances can potentially do that, it makes Hello Barbie nothing special.  What bothers me is the way she is so obviously going to be used to market to children:

Kids might find the technology fascinating, but already some critics have raised privacy concerns.

Angela Campbell of the Georgetown University Center on Privacy and Technology said she’s worried that children’s conversations will be analyzed for commercial purposes. Campbell pointed out that in Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks questions that could prompt a lot of information about a child, her interests and even her family.

I mean she talks back to your kids, for Pete’s sake!  I’m pretty sure she isn’t going to be doling out good advice or helping kids study their times tables.  When Janie pours out her heart about how sad she is now that Mommy and Daddy don’t live in the same house anymore, is Hello Barbie going to be talking about how a new Barbie Dream Home will make Janie feel so much better?

One of the major reasons we choose not to have TV is because of that “marketing to children” aspect.  We have an old TV with no antenna or digital converter box which we hooked up to a DVD player just so we could watch movies without having to see commercials.

Everything in my house can already potentially record me, but not everything in my house can talk back and try to turn my children into Consume-o-Bots.  And that is the reason Hello Barbie will not be welcome in our home.

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19 thoughts on ““Hello Barbie” bothers me but not because she’s a potential corporate spy.

  1. This is frightening. While the doll can be an interactive friend, it can exert a lot of influence over the child. In watching the video, the doll was alittle too agreeable.

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  2. Thank you for the mention. You make good points, that Barbie is scary! I didn’t even think of what she could say to a kid in terms of pressuring them to be consumers, but that opens up the possibility of also “programming” kids politically, how they will feel about the issues of the day, how they can learn to manipulate their parents…. It all sounds somewhat hysterical, but we already see that happening to kids through television, so why not a talking doll?

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    • Welcome!

      the possibility of also “programming” kids politically

      I thought the exact same thing when I watched that little Hello Barbie video clip. That’s got all kinds of potential for creating corporate she-drones out of impressionable young girls, doesn’t it? Barbie will assure young girls there’s nothing they can’t be! Except wives and mothers, of course, which will go unmentioned.

      From the video:

      Representative [to Barbie]: “We are on stage to show all these lovely people how amazing you are, Barbie!”

      Barbie: “Being on stage is exciting, isn’t it?”

      Representative: “Yes, I love it!”

      Barbie: “That’s cool! I didn’t know that about you. I like to be on stage, too.”

      Representative [to audience]: “So she can recognize and respond. So she understands, but she can also remember. So she’s going to get to know all my likes, all my dislikes, and then she will incorporate that into our conversation.” [to Barbie] “Barbie, what should I be when I grow up?

      Barbie: “Well, you told me you like being on stage, so maybe a dancer? Or a politician. Or how about a dancing politician!”

      I encourage readers to click on the video above and watch it for the full, horrifying effect. This is Mattel’s marketing strategy, and it is revolting.

      From Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: Stop Mattel’s “Hello Barbie” Eavesdropping Doll

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  3. On the subject of “marketing to children”, I am always taken aback whenever I consider the cartoons that I watched when I was a kid. They were all just marketing tools for the toyline that went with them. Each and every one.

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    • Yes, you are just a bit younger than my youngest sibling, who is 33, and I recall being surprised at how different the cartoons he watched were from the ones I watched (I’m a dozen years his senior). They were so incredibly dumb, just 20 minute advertisements really.

      Do you know who one of the worst modern offenders is for that kind of thing? Children’s Television Workshop (the Sesame Street people); Sesame Street now produces videos for babies, and they are essentially Sesame Street product tie-ins. Sickening.

      A thought-provoking resource: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

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      • Yeah, the 80’s and early to mid 90’s were chock full of that kind of stuff. And most really was garbage- with a few notable exceptions that didn’t last- probably because they were too good as stories and not good enough as commercials.

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  4. So she can recognize and respond. So she understands, but she can also remember. So she’s going to get to know all my likes, all my dislikes, and then she will incorporate that into our conversation.

    I wonder. Do you suppose Barbie would really respond to my likes and dislikes?

    For instance, if I say just the right things to Barbie to cue her as to what to incorporate into our conversation, could I get her to respond to the query, “Barbie, what should I be when I grow up?” with something like, “Well, you told me you like the Bible, children, and gardening, so you should be a housewife when you grow up. Or maybe a homeschooling mom of many? Or how about a submissive helpmeet!”

    Somehow I don’t think Barbie is quite as amend-able as Mattel is making her out to be. Which then leads to the obvious question: Exactly who is molding whom?

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    • We’re not paranoid. When this thing takes off, a lot of children are going to fall under outside influence. Stuff like this would make Josef Goebbels salivate. Whoever programs this won’t be held to account because it’s unseen.

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  5. Completely agree with your point that the doll is a little sales device planted right inside the home, teaching corporate values.

    Then, of course, there’s the fact that the conversation with the child will be uploaded and analysed for commercial insights, so the child is unknowingly participating in market research.

    Eventually these dolls may be networked, so one girl’s Barbie is ‘friends’ with another girl’s ‘Barbie’. The amplification of the marketing will be huge.

    There’s another question Mattel may not have thought about. Once their audio technology gets sophisticated enough, they’re going to be able to discern patterns of distress, illness and abuse in the child’s voice. What does that mean for a toy company, legally and morally?

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  6. The bright side, speaking as one who does product reliability for a living, is that the estimated duration of Barbie actually talking to the cloud is a year, or less if the child abuses her toy. Or her brother does surgery on “Barbie”, as my dad did with his big sister’s doll once. :^)

    I miss Loony Tunes. I don’t think you could make those today without all the SJWs getting all bent out of shape.

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  7. I see a Saturday Night Live skit coming. Two of these Barbies suitable situated on some surface, facing each other. A live person says a few words to the one Barbie and then points her toward the other Barbie. Barbie 1 responds to the live person; Barbie 2 hears and responds to what Barbie 1 said. Barbie 1 hears and responds to Barbie 2 – and the conversation is on. It would be interesting to hear what the Barbies are discussing between themselves after 5 minutes. For a really interesting conversation, add a third Barbie.

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  8. Good grief. “… suitably situated …” . Must be the solar eclipse messing with me. Oh, wait … Barbie’s asking “what’s a solar eclipse?” .

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  9. Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood isn’t a resource. Its a resource drain. It’s one of those ribbons that says “I care”. Its the Ad Council telling us in radio spots to find shade and drink water when its hot outside, or its This waste of digital space.

    These things take on life of their own and suck the life from well intended Christians. Insular home school Mom’s (not suggesting present hostess fits that) are especially prone to getting caught up in the romantic (lack better word) notion of the quaint. The perfect then is the enemy of that which is easily rendered harmless without foundations and the like.

    This is the engineer in me manifesting as practical uber alles. But I feel like I am more awash in meaningless gestures like those Ive cited than I am in truly dangerous trends that cannot be managed or combated on an individual basis. There is only a hairs breadth of difference between CCFC and the anti-vaccine zaniness. We should homologate none of it.

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    • Welcome, Empath.

      I think I understand what you’re trying to say and I certainly agree with you on the “meaningless gestures” part, as well as a desire not to participate in “alarmism”. However, where I think where we conservatives tend to fall down is that, rightly noticing alarmism, we then react by insisting there is no problem at all. With this I disagree.

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    • Oh, by the way Empath, I know that you are both conservative and Christian, as am I, so I would be particularly interested in any feedback you may have on some upcoming posts I’m working on, in which I’ll be exploring some aspects of environmentalism, economics, and family life/culture in the context of conservative Christianity. There are some areas where I think we conservative Christians have gotten off track in reacting against liberalism/leftism/progressivism/atheism etc.

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  10. I’m not a do nothing sort. Im a do something real sort. Do nothing is not a necessary other direction compared to the banality of forming groups of like minded people who call themselves advocates

    Much of this has to do with the dilution of our language. Ten years ago or maybe more I wrote a post as a guest on a men’s site, one of few then, not one I’d be willing to name. I called it Language Languishing. It was a dud, but I still believe what I wrote. I used some silly examples. One was, imagine before the industrial revolution, if a man was asked what he’s done all day and he replied “I hauled rock from the quarry to the site” it would have meant he needed lots of ibuprofen for muscle strain. Decades later, it obviously suggested a truck was involved.

    That evolution is seemingly harmless. But what about now? Well, we are back to where even with the truck being implied, that man would be once again seen to have worked very hard, and maybe need some ibuprofen because driving is hard on the back. He’d be decidedly blue collar and considered a manual worker.

    Along with driving a truck (a respectable profession…where I grew up, truckers were the upper middle class) what else has changed? Words that are inactive words, fuzzy and ill defined, have taken on higher meanings. Words like advocate. Which actors love to list as their secondary vocation after acting.

    But its not just actors. its people caught up in the stuff of being indignant for its own sake, alarmism for its own sake. There is an element of counter culture cool to being an advocate against normal things that the majority of fly over America holds as routine. This CCFC strikes me as such.

    Conservative….I still claim it. I still cringe when Socon is derided at Dalrock and I see the piling on effect where the hipster liberals – who happen to have some reality quotient when it comes to men’s issues-when they sense blood in the water as conservatives seem to be eating their own. We all wanna be seen as NOT the parody they have masterfully crafted of us so we do the same damn thing men do on gender. We self efface.

    I love peeve numbers 279 through 320. They are in the environmental and health section of empath’s book of peeves. So yea, i’ll look at what you have to say.

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