What Do Mattel’s Barbie and Thomas & Friends Have in Common and Why Should You Care?

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IMAGE SOURCE: FunkyJunk.com

By Cheri Roberts of Challenging the Rhetoric and Cheri Speak

Toys have come a long way since I was a kid in the early ’70s. Handheld water toys were quickly replaced with handheld electronic toys. I remember the first handheld football and blackjack games — the precursor for GameBoy, seemed designed more to entertain adults than kids however; many parents discovered these gadgets afforded them endless minutes of “free-time” while their kids, head bent in concentration and awe, first began absorbing themselves in the world of tech.

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IMAGE SOURCE: MotleyNews.com

These new games could be loaded with batteries, handed to a child anywhere at anytime, and wallah, instant babysitter. While not enough can be said about the pure evolution of “lazy” in America; this isn’t about lazy kids, it’s about unquestioning parents.

Hello Barbie!

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IMAGE SOURCE: commercialfreechildhood.org

More toy-makers are pushing the limits of intrusion and it seems many parents are are happy to let them.

Not long ago, a campaign was launched against toy-makerMattel, and CEO Christopher Sinclair, to stop the marketing and production of “Hello Barbie.” (#BarbieBugsUs). If you have no idea why, you should.

Mattel’s new “Hello Barbie” comes equipped with voice recognition and wifi. Not only is the toy-maker collecting voice and activity data from childhood consumers, they are doing so in a hackcessible cloud.

But, It’s Not Just Barbie

Small children everywhere are also fascinated by Mattel’s Gullane (Thomas) Limited’s, Thomas & Friends franchise, which is an empire in its own right. Their App, Thomas & Friends Talk to You, should also have parents shaking their heads and saying, “No!”

Like Hello Barbie!, the Thomas & Friends Talk to You App features,

unique speech recognition technology that allows players to have two-way conversations … ” 

Before children can speak with the characters, parents are required to give permission via email.

Both, Hello Barbie and Thomas & Friends Talk to You, are examples of the current state of what can only be addressed as corporate surveillance of children. Kids are being mined and then marketed to, which is bad enough, but there is something even more disturbing at play here.

What The Hack?

The technology used by Mattel and Gullane (Thomas) Limited was created by a company called Toy Talk. Toy Talk owns, manages and uses the data collected by the toys using their technology.

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Graphic Stock license

Hacking is a common occurrence in today’s digital world. Hackers are everywhere. They can also hack just about anything, and according to a current member of hacktivist group, ANONYMOUS, this includes your children’s toys. If these toys and other devices used by children are hackable, then who exactly may have unwarranted prime access to our children and our homes? And if the toys can be hacked, what other capabilities could be hacked-in to the toys themselves?

But, It’s Not Just Hackers

According to Toy Talk’s “Privacy Notice”,

To enable speech recognition, we need to capture audio recordings, for which we require parental permission via email. ToyTalk makes online safety and privacy a priority. After granting permission, parents can access and control their child’s recordings from our website at www.toytalk.com.”

Graphic Stock license

Graphic Stock license

However, our children’s info can be given away and/or sold,

” … in connection with, or during negotiations of, any merger, sale of company assets, financing or acquisition, or in any other situation where personal information may be disclosed or transferred as one of the business assets of ToyTalk.”

Kid Safe Coppa Certified aside … when consumers buy these toys and Apps they are automatically granting permission for their children’s voice and data [and who knows what else] to be sold at the whim and will of the company.

In addition,

The Service may offer social sharing features and may otherwise allow a parent to share Recordings and other content through third-party websites, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter (collectively the “Third-Party Sites”). Such sharing is not automatic, but it must be initiated by the parent user. Any personal information you provide to these Third-Party Sites in connection with such submission is provided directly to that third party and is subject to that third party’s privacy policy.”

… and,

We take reasonable measures to protect personal information in an effort to prevent loss, misuse, and unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, and destruction. Please be aware, however, that despite our efforts, no security measures are perfect or impenetrable and no method of data transmission that can be guaranteed against any interception or other type of misuse.”

Graphic Stock license

Graphic Stock license

Parents often allow other family members and caregivers the passwords or other access to things for their children. This means anyone with password access can exploit a child. It is a known fact that child abuse (including child sexual abuse) is more often perpetrated by someone close to a child. Pedophiles, just like child abuse and exploitation, come in many packages, including those assumed safe.

More Info on Toy Talk’s policies:

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