Consumer activists are raising red flags about Mattel's new "Hello Barbie" doll, which packs Siri-like voice recognition that some say could invade children's privacy. Kids using the doll press a button to record a message, which is then analyzed by a Mattel partner before an audio response is returned over the Internet.
“Kids using Hello Barbie aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial," Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood Executive Director Susan Linn told Bloomberg.
Linn, an activist who previously worked to stop Disney from promoting its Baby Einstein videos as educational, has been leading the charge against the Wi-Fi enabled doll, which she calls "creepy." She's helped organize a sizable social media campaign against the yet-unreleased Barbie.
Mattel is defending the new doll as a safe innovation in children's toys.
“Girls have always wanted to have a conversation with Barbie,” Mattel spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni told Bloomberg. “Through Toy Talk, we were able to create a safe platform that allows us to do so.”
The Hello Barbie doll comes amid struggling sales for the signature Mattel toy. Barbie sales dropped 16% last year to $1 billion. In the fourth quarter, Mattel reported in January that net income fell 59% to $149.9 million, or 44 cents a share. Sales fell 6% to $1.99 billion.