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Smart Guide for Smart Kids and Smart Devices: Barbie, Alexa, Google and Safety

Hello Barbie IS Listening-Not Just Talking

As we outlined in our video below,  the conversations Hello Barbie has with your child are recorded and stored in a cloud for two years. Conversations that include chatter like this:

“I like them with vanilla frosting and sprinkles. Oooh...or chocolate with chocolate chips! Oooh...or red velvet with cream cheese frosting!! Sorry, I got a little carried away I guess. What's your favorite kind?” “Ursa means Bear... so Ursa Major and Ursa Minor mean Big Bear and Little Bear! Isn't that cool?” Huh? “Oh hi! I've got a camping trip coming up and I'm so excited I can hardly stand it! It's so much fun to have something to look forward to, don't you think” “You know, one of my favorite things to do is to make believe—sometimes I'm a doctor, or a scientist, or a singer! Do you want to pretend with me?”

*These are Actual recorded Hello Barbie statements from the TechWellness-generated ToyTalk account. Most of those seem pretty harmless, except this last one. Kind of creepy.

“Well, maybe, as a fun game, I could pretend to be a quirky new friend who needs your help. What do you think?”

You Can Spy On Hello Barbie (and your kids)

Parents can manage conversations through the ToyTech Cloud based app. from the account they set up to make the doll work. Hello Barbie requires a WiFi connection via a companion smartphone app. Then, using the app and the Toy Talk website, parents can monitor the conversations their kids are having with Barbie.

The data can even be deleted. However, according to the Hello Barbie FAQs page, cached copies of the conversations may “exist on a temporary basis after the account is deleted.” Ohhh-kayyy.

They're Always Listening

Don't be surprised when toys and devices you bought to LISTEN TO YOU--like Barbie, Alexa, Google Home and Siri- are listening when you're NOT EXPECTING THEM TO LISTEN.

If your Hello Barbie Data can be recorded and played back to you, then of course it can be accessed by possibly anyone. The Privacy Policy says it can use the recordings to analyze and send them to partners like Bing!  

Reports have recently surfaced that Amazon actually has a team of 1000's who's full time jobs are Listening To Amazon Alexa-listen you.  They listen to what you're talking about--whenever you're talking.  The privacy policy explains it's in an effort to get to know you.  To help create the "artificial intelligence" that's not yet exactly artificial.

When Barbie first came to market, there were reports that a group of employees at Toy Talk listened to your child's recordings in an effort to program for the youngsters that would be playing with Barbie.  

I remember how strange it was when Barbie asked me if I ever felt jealous about something.  She did and I didn't tell her. She asked me if I had brothers and then asked again.  You can hear these question on the video above.  Kinda crazy.

Celebrating Barbie's 60th with Hello Barbie? 

She's a smart toy and that means Hello Barbie deserves a careful look by caring moms and dads.  She's listening like Alexa and Siri and Google Home, but she's also responding and talking to your child.

Smart Toys have been pulled off the shelves of Walmart and Amazon when they were confirmed as hacked. The brand was Cloud Pets, but virtually all Talking and Listening toys are subject to hacking.

Tech Wellness wants you to be aware that just like you'll see in this video of Hello Barbie, toys that listen and record you or your child need to be taken very seriously.  Your privacy, your child's privacy is at risk.

 

When peeling back the layers of Hello Barbie, the product of Mattel’s partnership with high-tech company Toy Talk, we discovered plenty of fascinating insights and concerns about privacy and safety.

Moms, Dads became Consumer Advocates and Did Not Want to Say Hello to Hello Barbie

In fact,  before Hello Barbie’s Christmas 2015 debut, a consumer advocacy group grabbed headlines as it made the case to stop the doll’s release. More attempts to gag Hello Barbie spread through an intense social media awareness campaign launched by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). This group exists to educate parents and the public at large about the dangers of marketing aimed at children.

Their #hellnobarbie social campaign made big waves; and not surprisingly, Hello Barbie won the group’s 2015 TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young children) award in a landslide, garnering 57% of the votes. That uproar wasn’t so much because Barbie could talk, but how she listens.

Everything You Need To Know Before Saying Hello To Barbie

Mattel, makers of Hello Barbie describe Barbie's beni's like this on Amazon:

  • Chat with Barbie for a whole new way to play!
  • Hello Barbie doll uses WiFi and speech recognition technology to engage in two-way dialogue
  • Use is simple with functionality built into her belt buckle--
  • Press to start the conversation and release to hear Hello Barbie Doll respond

How Secure Is Your Data?

Mattel insists the data is secure, but hackers these days are frighteningly brilliant and very persistent. Another report, posted by Fortune, outlines the vulnerability of Internet toys. There are several examples of security breaches cited in this eye-opening read.

BFF's vs. EMF's

Hello Barbie is a dream come true for kids who want a best friend they can confide in with seemingly no consequences. That’s kind of scary in itself. But beyond the security risks outlined above, there are Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) to consider. With toys and all devices, EMF awareness and knowing how to avoid dangerous levels of exposure should be top of mind. And it’s as simple as putting some distance between your devices and you/your kids.

Educating wireless users about EMF safety has been a passion of ours for years.

The bone marrow of a child’s head absorbs 10 times more radiation than that of an adult

Dr. Devra Davis, Ph.D. for the Environmental Health Trust

childrens brains and emf wireless energy absorption

To learn more about EMF and wireless energy, our Wireless Guide is an excellent resource.  Among many excellent points, illustrates how children's brains are much more susceptible to the effects of EMF waves than are adults.

We've found an article from the American Cancer Society offers a medical perspective on the risks of Radiofrequency (RF) radiation (including WiFi, Bluetooth, and microwaves) in this must-read article. Last but far from least, another article we found that discusses the recent study on the effects of microwave radiation exposure on kids. Both--a must read! 

Protecting Your Kids From EMF Radiation

The Magnetic EMF and the EMF radiation are two reasons why kids should only use devices when they are on airplane mode and use a stylus to avoid magnetic energy. You'll appreciate our list of  WiFi-Free Kids Games

 kids crayon stylus

How Smart Stuff Can Effect Your Child's Development

Smart IOT is everywhere and sometimes it comes in really handy--Parents can depend on Alexa and Google to  assist them as a virtual nanny.  How great when you can say Hey Alexa and- and order  diapers when you're low.(!)

But we need to be careful when it comes to letting kids use  Amazon Echo's Alexa or Google-Home as their own a Children's Smart Assistant or babysitter.   It listens, it knows their little voices, answers their questions, helps with homework and soothes them to sleep.

Hey Alexa, Can You Text Emily and Tell Her I'm Busy With Mom?

It's important to remember, all these "Smart Helpers" from Smart Toys like Hello Barbie to virtual assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home are not exactly designed to interact with children in all stages of development. In fact, they can hinder the kind of healthy, kind and intelligent development parents long for for their children. Dr. Radesky is an Assistant Professor of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Michigan specializes in developmental and behavioral problems with kids-

"Knowing that children sometimes see the world very differently than adults, I asked my kids.  We don’t have a virtual assistant in my house (just lots of speakers for music), but since my kids have used Siri a lot, I asked my 8-year-old, “Who is Siri?” He replied, “Oh, she’s a lady in California who answers our questions whenever we need her.” What?! I had to correct that, because I’m not okay with him thinking that someone is available instantly whenever he has a question. (I want him to learn to hold thoughts in his mind!)"

Dr. Radesky wrote for PBS about how artificial intelligence-used to communicate with kids and their parents in all smart devices can backfire when it comes to healthy development:

"The second principle is: Kids think and learn very differently than AI. Kids’ minds are imaginative and expansive; AI looks for the same patterns over and over. Kids tie together information from vastly different experiences without logic (like worrying that because water goes down the tub drain, their body might too); AI is very fact- and logic-driven. So it’s possible that kids and AI might not communicate very well."

Mattel is the manufacturer--yes, the makers of Hello Barbie,  Mattel clearly anticipated the consumer hesitance when they brought a kids Personal Assistant to market, called Aristotle:

After all, this is a system that logs your child's behavior and has object recognition AI designed to react when certain toys are played with. Mattel has attempted to address these concerns releasing an additional statement stressing, "Not only is the new Aristotle by nabi system COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) compliant, and utilizes 256-bit encryption to keep your video stream secure, but it is also HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliant. ~ New Atlas, Rich Hariday

With this Kids version of an Alexa-type personal assistant, Mattel promised that the info gathered would be cached locally and only accessed through nearby paired authorized devices. However, those devices would also be working with numerous third-party developers (just like Hello Barbie, My Friend Cayla and I-Que Robot, re-purposing that info for commercialization. It's a tricky grey area for sure.

Hmmm.. privacy issues galore--don’t forget, just like Hello Barbie,  Aristotle and Alexa and Google Home utilize  Bluetooth and WiFi..and that means lots of EMF exposure on their growing brains, especially putting SUCH a powerful tool right next to your baby's crib? Personally, we just wouldn't take the chance. 

If you're worried about toys and other smart devices that emit harmful radiation, we offer some amazing meters--and they range from size, type, level, and price. Be proactive and know what's in your surroundings, because your family is worth it. 

computer camera covers

Lastly, if you haven't got any, invest in some of our Creepblockers to protect you and your family's privacy. They're very effective, affordable, and fun webcam covers and microphone mufflers. 

Stay safe & Be Well, 

XO August 

Here's the research

 Please share information with family and friends. The more we can provide the facts about smarter wireless technology use, the more we can help each other make the best choices for our families; and to practice safer ways to stay connected. Here’s to living safer in our wireless world.

xo. August

 

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