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Fear as playfellow: How Barbie spies on your children

Perhaps you are one of those people who are frightened of Barbie; the preternaturally slender toy doll with the long blonde hair who now has even more to offer. The latest version is interactive and can even talk to your children. It just makes you wonder what she will talk about. Suspicions abound about manipulative incursions into the thoughts and emotions of small children by their two-faced new friend and spying in the nursery.

The public outcry that greeted the launch of “Hello Barbie”, the digital version of Mattel’s cult doll, was enormous. Equipped with loudspeaker, microphone and WLAN interface, the new doll can record your conversations with your children and post them on the internet. A horrific idea for many parents who fear that they won’t be the only ones listening and that Mattel might use the cute utterances of their children for marketing purposes.

There seems to be no end to the possibilities. Barbie could ask the child in the guise of an oral diary to tell her which brand of toothpaste their parents use in the morning, which brand of pasta is stirred into the tomato sauce at lunchtime and what sort of wine they drink to unwind at the end of the day.

The digital revolution is knocking on the nursery door and the questions this throws up with regard to privacy could become an important precedent. It is quite possible that the echoes of public protest will reverberate for some time to come.

There is far more at stake here. We are testing the waters of digital consumer power. Which digital products do we want and which don’t we want? The “Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood” makes it clear: “Children's well-being and healthy development demand relationships and conversations with real people and real friends”. They say that the “eavesdropping doll” must go. It will be interesting to see whether society can put a stop to an omnipresent digital childhood world with make-believe false friend or whether even the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society are to be spied on using methods that are more at home in our intelligence agencies.

Picture: Copyright by Mattel

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