The company says the doll was created in response to consumer demand. “The number one request we receive from girls globally is to have a conversation with Barbie” says Stephanie Cota of Mattel. The toy uses speech recognition software to deliver pre-programmed responses to keywords or phrases. Thus, kids can feel Barbie is responsive to them.
Needless to say, many consumer groups are upset. “This is really about Mattel eavesdropping on a child’s heart and soul -- and the most intimate things about their lives,” say Susan Linn, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. 1 Parents will be able to access their kids’ recorded conversations, and this in my mind is just as big of an issue. Obsessive helicopter parents really don’t need any more tools to spy on their children. I loath the day when kids clothing comes equipped with micro chips that record their every word. (A day I’m sure is coming.) There’s also the whole issue that such toys continue to squeeze spontaneity and creativity out of play.
Not to mention that some of the things children say in their play may be of a rather sensitive nature. Having worked in child care for a decade, I know the types of things kids disclose about you when you’re not around . . . the fights you have, details on who farts too much, and any number of potentially embarrassing things they overhear and possibly misinterpret. Do you really want these things to become the intellectual property of Mattel?
Each parent is free to make their own decisions, and maybe none of these things will bother you, if your girl wants the doll. But that’s probably what I fear most: this slow creep of intrusion until every nook and cranny of life is being scrutinized and monitored.
1. Bruce Horovitz, “Mattel Urged to Scrap Talking Barbie” USA Today, 3B 3/12/2015