March 16, 2015 -
Toy manufacturer Mattel recently unveiled at a recent New York toy fair its new “Hello Barbie” doll, which uses voice recognition software to learn a child’s voice over time to effectively have conversations with the child, according to a report by the Washington Post.
The Barbie records the child’s voice using an embedded microphone, which is activated by a button, and “listens” to the voice.
Meanwhile, the doll sends the audio recordings via wi-fi to a server where the voice data is recognized and processed to help generate the doll’s responses.
Privacy advocate groups are concerned about the privacy and security implications of the technology. However, Mattel said in a statement that the company is “committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards.”
ToyTalk, the San Francisco-based startup that developed the doll’s voice recognition software, said that parents will likely have to sign into an app, create an account and provide consent to their child’s voice being recorded before the technology is activated.
“The data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff. Not at all,” ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob told the Washington Post, emphasizing that the collected audio files will only be used to improve the product’s speech recognition capabilities.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has launched a petition to prevent Mattel from releasing the doll, arguing that the technology could make children more vulnerable to buzz advertising.
Parents can also receive daily or weekly emails that include the audio files of their children’s conversations with the doll.
The announcement comes at a tumultuous time for Mattel after a series of poor earnings results, which included a 59 percent decline in profits, led to the resignation of CEO Bryan Stockton.
The “Hello Barbie” doll, which can be previewed in this video taken at the toy fair, is expected to hit store shelves in the fall.