The new Hello Barbie is actually specifically designed to store the conversations that it has with the children, so it can then be analyzed by a team of researchers who will make the toy’s responses more complex.
“Whatever we come away with as our first blush attempt at the conversations, we’ll see what kids want to talk about or not. We’ll take our honest best guess at that and then see what comes back, and then that will change and evolve over time as those conversations happen between individual children and Barbie dolls,” Oren Jacob, CEO of ToyTalk said in a recent statement.
However, security experts have raised concerns about how else that information could be used.
“It wouldn’t take much for a malicious individual to intercept either the wi-fi communications from the phone or tablet, or connect to the doll over Bluetooth directly. These problems aren’t difficult to solve; the manufacturer needs to check the phone application carefully to make sure it’s secure. They also need to check that any information sent by the doll to their online systems is protected,” Ken Munro, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners said.
The company responded to these concerns with a statement, saying that:
“While we’re familiar with the Cayla doll and with what happened in terms of a privacy breach, Hello Barbie is fundamentally different on many levels. As with all of ToyTalk’s products–we started with apps for kids–online privacy and security is of utmost importance. That’s why we ask for parental consent and agreement to use their kids’ speech, anonymously, to add to our database in order to increase Barbie’s conversational capabilities. To address the issue of being able to intercept the wi-fi communications or connect Barbie via Bluetooth, all communications take place over a secured TLS (HTTPS) network and it’s not possible to connect her via Bluetooth. Further Barbie connects directly to ToyTalk servers–not via an outside app with local data stored on it. And no back doors are being added to the app, to further avoid access issues.”
The doll is expected to be in stores by winter of 2015.
The toy is among a new line of products that is connected to the internet and able to eavesdrop and record any conversation that is happening in the room.
John Vibes writes for True Activist and is an author, researcher and investigative journalist who takes a special interest in the counter culture and the drug war.