Barbie’s new “smart home” poses concerns to kids’ privacy

Mattel, Inc. is moving Barbie into her very own connected home in the fall of 2016; but with internet connected features like voice command, experts are wary of how kids’ conversations and home activities might be recorded or listened in on.

This release follows that of Hello Barbie, a Wi-Fi-enabled version of the Barbie doll that has functions similar to Apple’s Siri. The company is building on the connected experience with the Barbie Hello Dreamhouse.

Just like Hello Barbie, the Dreamhouse makes use of cloud technology through Wi-Fi connections to be able to respond to voice commands instantaneously. A few of these commands include switching lights on and off; managing bulb colors; and activating the sound of running water when a kid says the command, “getting ready for school.”

In addition to these functions, the Dreamhouse also boasts of a voice-activated elevator which can go to any floor Barbie is. Flashing lights and a staircase that turns into a slide are also part of the Dreamhouse experience. Dubbed “Party Mode”, the house can also crank up some fun party music.

Barbie’s new wifi-enabled smart-home toy might be vulnerable to hackers, exposing children and their homes.

The Hello Barbie doll goes for about $74.99, while the Barbie Hello Dream House will sell for $399 later this year. The Dreamhouse was on display at the New York Toy Fair where Mattel, Inc. also showed off another new toy – Barbie’s new hoverboard. Called the Star Light Adventure RC hoverboard, the drone can actually lift Barbie above ground and will sell for $60 later this year.

As these Mattel, Inc. toys get more high-tech and sophisticated, their security gaps become wider since the industry of connected devices lack default protection against hackers. This becomes a bigger issue since Wi-Fi-ready children’s toys as kids’ privacy are not being prioritized. Just over the past few months, Fischer Price Smart Toy and hereO GPS went through a security breach as kids’ personal data were revealed. Vtech Holdings Ltd. Also went through a similar ordeal as the company was hacked and messages and photos between parents and children were compromised and exposed.

Most of these concerns have already been raised before Hello Barbie was even released publicly, but it seems to not have been fully resolved as Mattel prepares to launch a new product. A spokesperson for the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood posed a concern saying, “if I had a young child, I would be very concerned that my child’s intimate conversations with her doll were being recorded and analyzed… in Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests, and her family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children.”

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