Last year, Mattel came up with a toy called Hello Barbie, which was advertised as a toy a child could have conversations with. It wasn’t long before people discovered it could be hacked.
Most of the time, such hacking is by folks who want to find out how something works, and is essentially harmless. The problem with Hello Barbie was that the company that made the voice processing software had the doll sending recordings of the conversations to them over the internet.
This raised some nasty privacy concerns. Toy Talk, the company providing the voice module, says the recordings are used only to refine their voice processing service. The problem is, how do we know that is all that’s happening??
Now this year, a company called Genesis Toys is marketing a doll for girls called My Friend Cayla, and a similar product for boys called iQue, that convert a child’s voice to text and send it… somewhere to be processed so the doll can respond.
I don’t know about you, but this feels creepy! What happens if that database is compromised? The child trusts that doll and probably tells it all kinds of personal things. This could easily become a nightmare.
Perhaps an even more important question is: Why is there a market for such toys at all? Don’t children have flesh-and-blood friends anymore? Isn’t it much more fun to talk with a real person? Or is that too “messy,” because the real person might say something that hurts the child’s feelings? Are we going to raise an entire generation of children who never learned to interact with other humans? This could not possibly end well in my opinion, but you decide if your child or grandchild should have something like this…
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I’d love to hear your comments!