Fact Check

'Hello Barbie' Eavesdropping Doll

Rumor: Mattel's new Hello Barbie toy will record and transmit children's conversations.

Published Mar 12, 2015


Claim:   Mattel's new Hello Barbie toy will record and transmit children's conversations.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, March 2015]

I just read an article (sent by Campaign for a Commercial-Free
Childhood) about a new Barbie Doll made by Mattel that is sent to hit
markets this fall. This doll records the child's conversations, transmits
them to Mattel's technology partner "Toy Talk" and they can then use that
info..........this all sounds so far out! True?


Origins:   On 14 February 2015, Mattel introduced a new Barbie model at the New York Toy Fair. In initial media reports, Hello Barbie was simply described as an innovation based upon feedback from young customers who wished to interact with their beloved Barbie dolls, and one of a number of planned interactive toys from Mattel:

"The number one request we hear from girls around the world is that they want to have a conversation with Barbie. Now, for the first time ever, Barbie can have a two-way conversation," said a spokeswoman for Mattel.

The Hello Barbie will be able to play interactive games and tell stories and jokes.

A dinosaur, connected to one of the world's cleverest machines, is also being developed
It will also listen to the child's conversation and adapt to it over time — so, for instance, if a child mentions that they like to dance, the doll may refer to this in a future chat.

The doll requires a wi-fi connection and can provide an hour's worth of playtime when fully charged.

On 15 February 2015, video footage from the New York Toy Fair that demonstrated how Hello Barbie worked was posted on YouTube:

Interest in Hello Barbie waned until 11 March 2015, when the group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) published a petition that called upon Mattel to cancel the doll's production based upon the notion that the toy would be recording children's conversations and transmitting them to Mattel:

Imagine your children playing with a doll that records everything they say (and other nearby conversations) and transmits it all to a corporation which analyzes every word to learn "all of [your child's] likes and dislikes." That's exactly what Mattel's eavesdropping "Hello Barbie" does. Unless we take action, it will be in toy stores this autumn.

Kids using "Hello Barbie"' won't only be talking to a doll, they'll be talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial. It's creepy- and creates a host of dangers for children and families.

Please join CCFC in demanding that Mattel halt marketing and production of "Hello Barbie."

By Mattel's own description, Hello Barbie will record and process portions of ambient conversation. However, the petition ascribed a number of additional functions to Hello Barbie which have not been confirmed, such as analysis of captured audio for marketing purposes. While the technology involved alarmed many consumers once the petition began to circulate, it didn't differ meaningfully from the functionality of smart TVs or other popular interactive gadgetry such as Apple's Siri virtual assistant. (iPads and iPhones are not infrequently used by small children despite their similar ability to record and transmit ambient conversation to a third party.)

ToyTalk, the company that partnered with Mattel to produce Hello Barbie, attempted to assuage parental fears about the new product:

In an interview, ToyTalk chief executive Oren Jacob stressed that the audio files the doll collects will be used only to improve the product, including helping it build better speech recognition models for children. "The data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff. Not at all," Jacob said.

While it's true that Hello Barbie can record and transmit household conversations, the same could be said for nearly every smartphone, almost all newer televisions, and a number of other personal gadgets. Hello Barbie's interactivity may have alarmed some parents, but it is similar to voice recognition features included on many popular technological devices and by itself presents no more risk or exposure than an iPad or a smart TV.

Last updated:   12 March 2015


    Halzack, Sarah.

"Privacy Advocates Try to Keep 'Creepy,' 'Eavesdropping' Hello Barbie from Hitting Shelves."

    Washington Post.   11 March 2015.

    "Barbie Doll Will Be Internet Connected to Chat to Kids"

    BBC News.   17 February 2015.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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