Nikita Richardson
November 29, 2015 8:36 am

Between Amazon producing Kindles for Kids and the proliferation of games and apps for young minds, technology is becoming a bigger part of childhood than ever before.

Recently, toymaker Mattel decided to join in on the toy tech game, announcing the November arrival of Hello Barbie, a wi-fi connected Barbie doll that records what kids say, processes the information, and then responds, remembering a child’s likes and dislikes along the way.  

From the moment Mattel announced the doll, developed in collaboration with award-winning tech startup ToyTalk, some parents were up in arms, claiming the doll could potentially violate the privacy of unsuspecting children — who often have no concept of what’s acceptable to say and what’s not — and their families. Already, 6,000 such parents have signed a petition by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood requesting that Mattel discontinue the doll even before it hits shelves.

Now, it’s been reported that security experts are joining the fray, having successfully hacked the doll and accessing wi-fi network names, account IDs, system information, and MP3 recordings.

“I was able to get some data out of it that I probably shouldn’t have,” security expert Matt Jakubowski told NBC. “You can take that information and find someone’s house or business.”

He goes on to claim that hackers could then program Hello Barbie to say what they want her to say.

Besides the possibility of strangers hacking into the doll, some are also worried for children who might be spied on by not only their parents, but by Mattel as well. As we previously reported, Hello Barbie and its companion app can be set up to send parents a weekly email with the recordings their children made while playing with the doll. Mattel also states in the toy contract that, if recordings reveal that a child or people around the child are in danger, the proper authorities will be contacted.

For its part, ToyTalk is working to reassure parents and privacy experts alike that Hello Barbie will operate over a secure network, even going so far as to employ hackers to expose any holes that might exist in the Barbie’s current operating system.

Toytalk CEO Oren Jacob was dismissive of the NBC report, saying that Mr. Jakubowski simply accessed information that is already available via the Barbie’s companion app. In an interview with the Kernel earlier this year, Jacob claimed that using the Barbie is no different than using Siri on an iOS device: Recordings are made and kept for two years—or completely wiped if a parent decides to discontinue using the doll.

(Image via Mattel.)

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