Barbie and the Rocker

Let me tell you about a 59-year-old woman who makes billions of dollars a year.

Her name is Barbie, and, after years of being in the (toy) doghouse, she’s suddenly cool again. Last week toy conglomerate Mattel reported a 12% rise in sales of the buxom blonde:

“Mattel is trying to lure customers back by recasting the toy’s image to play up not only the nostalgia but a newer notion: they’re beneficial to child development”, says the Washington Post.

Crikey.

When I was a kid, all Barbie did was promote an unrealistic body image.

(Doctors have said that if Barbie were real she’d only have room for half a liver and a few inches of intestine. Yet apparently there is room for a much bigger brain.)

Okay so Mattel hasn’t upgraded her liver, intestines or brain … but they have added a touch of tech.

Enter Hello Barbie.

Here’s how Mattel describes the latest round of plastic surgery they’ve performed on the world’s favourite rake-thin, six-foot-tall, FF-breasted doll:

“The number one thing girls have asked for, is to have a conversation with Barbie. Well, using WiFi and speech recognition technology … now they can! Girls want to learn, tell stories and make friends … and for the first time Barbie recognises what girls are saying, and can respond!”

Uh-huh.

Here’s what’s really happening:

“A microphone records little girls’ private conversations. It transmits those conversations to cloud servers where they are analysed by algorithms and are listened to by employees of Mattel and its technology partner, Toy Talk, and they are shared with unnamed third parties”, says Susan Linn, from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Creepy.

“Hello Barbie asks many questions that would elicit information about a child, her interests, and her family, which could be of great value to advertisers”, says Angela Campbell, Director of Communication at Georgetown Law School.

Clearly this is outrageous.

We need to protect our vulnerable little children from a conglomerate that is openly spying on them.

They’re kids, for goodness’ sake!

I mean they’re not old enough to understand the long-term ramifications of giving up their privacy, and having their data sold and later used against them. As adults we obviously wouldn’t fall for that, right?

Wait a second …

Yes, some of the fastest-selling tech gadgets on the planet right now are Amazon Alexa and Google Home ‒ voice-activated speakers that are constantly listening in on our conversations. Oh, and then there’s the cute-looking Alexa Alarm Clock, which has an in-built camera and microphone … in your bedroom?!

Barbie may be off her rocker, but we’re all being played like toys by big tech conglomerates.