Hello Barbie

Barbie, a very indiscreet confidante...

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Confiding in her Barbie doll, telling her everything, her most intimate little secrets, nothing more normal for a little girl. What's new today is that the beloved Barbie has started answering her, for real. And to record everything that is said between the two friends. Released in the United States and soon in Europe, the new "Hello Barbie" is indeed equipped with a microphone, speakers and ... a wifi connection to transmit small conversations in the Cloud ...
 
Mattel, the firm that invented Barbie has seen its sales figures decline in recent years. In 2015, its turnover was diving of -21 % compared to the previous year. The fault lies with the electronic consoles and other connected objects that are flooding the toy market. Barbie wasn't so popular anymore. To counter this downward trend, the American group is releasing a high-tech version of the famous doll for Christmas 2015. A version that connects and communicates with the child.
 

Hello, Barbie can't keep secrets. That's a lot of fun for a doll!

 
As soon as this release was announced, child protection groups became concerned. Not only does Barbie become talkative, but she also doesn't know how to keep secrets, which is a real shame for a doll!
Psychologists have known for a long time that dolls play a valuable role as confidants for little girls. « He's an imaginary interlocutor ", explains Jean-Louis Lerun, child psychiatrist and editor-in-chief of the magazine Enfance & Psy, when asked by Psychologies. In any case, " when the child talks to this companion, it is first of all to an extension of himself that he is talking to "he says. An ideal confidant?" Yes, he replies, since he has no reaction other than what the child is willing to give him. This allows him to have total control over what is said and heard. And to satisfy his need to share, to not keep quiet about what is preoccupying him, while at the same time learning about intimacy. ".
 
With "Hello Barbie", everything the child says is transmitted to remote servers where everything is stored and analyzed by ToyTalkMattel's technology partner. The American children's advocacy group against commercial interests, Commercial-Free Childhood, observes that "ToyTalk employees and partner companies listen to recordings of children's conversations, yet ToyTalk won't even reveal who its partners are."
 
Confidences of little girls
 
Confidences that could be very useful in collecting data with high commercial potential. Not to mention the possible dimension of monitoring our children's lives. It should be noted that the confidences that little girls confide in their dolls in complete confidence affect their most intimate lives. As a testimony, two comments from children quoted by the magazine Psychologies :
 
Lou, 7 years old
I say hello to her in the morning, I offer her a swing, I teach her how to talk, how to eat properly... It's like she's my baby. When I'm sad, I cuddle him, to reassure myself, it makes me feel good. When I feel sad, I tell my mom or dad. To my doll, I tell her all the things that happen to me. After school, I tell her what happened, I also tell her what I'm going to do on weekends. That way she knows everything about me. But the others know everything about me too! My secrets, I don't tell anyone... I guess. "
 
Claire, 9 years old
As soon as I saw it in the box, I knew it would be my favorite. I don't know how old she is, just that she's the age of a mom, but she's older than me. When my little sister's not in our room, I take my Barbie and I tell her little secrets. At the same time, I make her articulate her arms, so I feel like she's listening and responding to me. Once too, I had cried because I was lonely, I took her, I told her secrets (that I was lonely and sad and everything). Afterwards I pushed her towards my face and put her little hand on my cheek. It was like my mother was caressing me. It was nice. "
 
The Californian start-up ToyTalk is meant to be reassuring by indicating that " many safety options have been integrated into the doll ». She goes on to say: " As far as we know, nobody has managed to get hold of Wifi passwords or the children's audio recordings. ». The company also states that the conversation history is not stored in the toy, and that the data retained " will never be used for advertising purposes ".

What is the purpose of the data collected?

 
However, one might ask, what is the point of storing recordings of conversations between little girls and their dolls on remote servers? What can be done with this information? We are willing to take ToyTalk at its word and admit that the data is not used for advertising purposes. So be it. But for what purpose is it kept? For fun? To better understand human nature from early childhood to reproduce it in silico? Mystery.
 
One can also wonder whether this connected Barbie might not represent a tempting target for hackers, who could access valuable data through the doll. Indeed, connected toys are multiplying and with them some perverse effects are starting to appear. The American company VTech a specialist in the field of intelligent toys has thus confessed to having been the subject of a widespread piracy computer science. More than six million children's data have been the subject of cybernetic theft. The Lodge application of toy manufacturer Vtech has just been shut down as a result of this hacking. The site specialises in cyber security, ZatazThe hackers used a classic loophole: an SQL injection allowed them to get their hands on data saved by customers in this database. Clients from France, Canada and other countries appear to have been impacted. The attack was detected beginning November 14, 2015.
Questioned by LeMagITNicolas Stricher, a technical consultant specializing in computer security, is alarmed by the extent of data theft affecting parents and children, but also by the risk that photos and archives of personal conversations have been stolen in the process: ". in an adult world, the equivalent would be for a hacker to access and steal your photos and conversations from your Facebook account. ".
 

Acute spyware in children's bedrooms: a trend

 
The Hello Barbie doll is not the only example of toys invented to better know (and control?) the lives of their little users. A few months ago, UP' Magazine revealed a patent filed by Google for a connected teddy bear. The patent from the Mountain View firm presents a teddy bear that looks quite classic in appearance. Except that under its hairs are hidden dozens of sensors: cameras instead of eyes to monitor the child, activate facial recognition to identify its interlocutors, and ear-microphones to listen to what's going on in your teddy bear's room.
All of these details have caused great concern. This was pointed out by the BBC by reporting on the response of the Center for Democracy and Technology, the U.S. agency for the protection of children. This group is calling on parents to be extremely vigilant about these types of toys that will be on the rise in the years to come. It calls on companies to be as transparent as possible in order to avoid excesses and abuses, particularly with regard to the information that will be collected via these devices. « In general, while technology allows us to move forward, some markets are pushing and even destroying certain social norms, particularly with regard to privacy.« warned Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, one of its leaders.

READ IN UP' : With his bear connected, Google breaks into the children's room...

Finally, it should be noted that the "Hello Barbie" is available in the United States at a price of $75. This doll will soon be available in Europe.
 
Charles-Elie GuzmanUP' Magazine
 

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