The Latest Barbie Controversy Is Over Privacy

Wifi enabled "Hello Barbie" might be a little too friendly for some parents.

Over the past decades, Barbie has proven that she can do just about anything. From starting a business to hanging out in a hot tub, she is a woman of many talents. Now she’s having actual conversations and it’s freaking people out.

The latest Barbie doll, “Hello Barbie,” comes equipped with Wifi and a microphone, so she can chat with girls about any number of topics. In this clip from CBS MoneyWatch, the reporter has an exchange about what they like about New York City.

Mattel, the makers of Barbie dolls, say they’re indulging the desire for children to have a conversation with their dolls. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Technology says it’s “creepy” and raises privacy questions.

“In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests and her family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children,” said Georgetown University law professor Angela Campbell in a statement from the group.

Mattel goes on to say that there are protections there to keep things on the up and up. But the “eavesdropping” still gives the group pause, along with the transmission of info across the web.

We don’t know how much Mattel consults with parents and parents groups before they come up with these new ideas, but they might want to do more. With all of the dust ups lately — over the body image that’s being portrayed to girls, whether the doll reinforces superficial qualities that have been pushed on girls, and now these technological problems — it seems like there’s a disconnect between Barbie’s innovation team and customer concerns.

Appealing to modern girls is more than just pretty hair and nice clothes. While Mattel is trying to keep up with the times with things like this talking Barbie or Barbie with a briefcase, there’s still the sense that every evolutionary step is somehow wrong-footed. Perhaps it’s because the company is holding on a bit too tightly to what Barbie always has been. Or maybe they’re too sure, after years and years of great success, that they know what fans want.

Whatever it is, there’s only so much controversy that any one brand can take. Girls love their Barbies but if their parents have issues with the doll that just won’t be enough.

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