Barbie and big data. The two may seem like an odd pairing to say the least. After all, one is a child’s toy that’s been popular for decades, while the other is a relatively new high-tech concept that has only recently started to affect things like business operations, scientific discoveries, and the latest gadgets. As dissimilar as they may seem, Barbie and big data have collided in a big way in the past year with the introduction of Hello Barbie, one of the hottest holiday toy items that flew off shelves late in 2015. This latest Barbie is all about using some of the latest tech trends to craft an entirely new type of toy, one which could signal a new wave of entertainment items for kids that incorporates big data. The prospect certainly sounds like an exciting one, though there are those who find the ways the new doll uses big data to be a little unsettling at first glance.
Hello Barbie is a product of Mattel and partner ToyTalk, and the way it uses some of the latest technology to change how kids play with a doll is quite fascinating. Through a microphone hidden on the doll, the child can talk to it. Those words are recorded and sent back to ToyTalk servers where voice recognition technology and big data analytics are used to analyze what was said and send back an appropriate response. Considering the 8,000 different responses that have been recorded (by an actress, no less), that leaves a lot of possible ways for the doll to answer. But the technology goes beyond that. Not only does ToyTalk analyze what children say, they store those answers so that they can be taken into account later on. In other words, through a child’s words, the entire experience with their individual Barbie doll is unique. No child will have the exact same toy when you get right down to it.
The Hello Barbie doll is basically powered by big data, breaking new ground in the realm of toys. With speech recognition technology, cloud computing, analytics, and even deep learning algorithms, Mattel and ToyTalk have crafted a new product aimed to entertain children by providing an almost fully immersive experience. Children already have expressive imaginations when it comes to their toys. Now think of what it will be like when a toy not only talks back but remember what the child says.
Of course, breakthroughs such as this one rarely happen without controversy, and there’s plenty to go around with Hello Barbie. One group that has been a staunch opponent of the doll is The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The largest concern seems to be how children’s answers are being stored, potentially able to be listened to by whoever may be on the other end. For obvious reasons, that has many worried about what privacy children will actually have as they use the toy. Other concerns also include what the data collected on kids could be used for. After all, if ToyTalk can find out what television shows a child likes or what music they prefer to listen to, what’s to stop them from selling that information to a third party? And could Hello Barbie be used as a marketing tool, responding to children directly through the toy in order to influence them to buy certain products in the future? Considering the personalized approach Hello Barbie emphasizes, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to use the toy for personalized marketing.For their part, both Mattel and ToyTalk have tried to reassure their critics that no data will be used for marketing purposes. Mattel has also stated that the toy meets with all government standards when it comes to privacy. Parents also have control over what restrictions they can set for the toy. These efforts to address worries are certainly notable, but considering the full potential of what Hello Barbie offers and how data could be used or even stolen by hackers, concerns will likely never go away.Controversy aside, it’s probably time to get used to the idea of toys using big data. Hello Barbie may only be the first of many dolls and other toys that effectively utilize data analytics for entertaining children in this way. With more companies of different types turning to big data as a service providers, this phenomenon will quickly spread. As long as businesses can respond quickly to privacy questions and inquiries into how data will be used, parents and children will feel more comfortable with these new high-tech toys.