Are Children Losing Their Childhood to Smart Toys?

Smart toys are on the rise, but while they may have the ability to enhance a child’s play, do they also pose a threat by spying on what children are doing?

In an article from the New Scientist, the issue of privacy is looked into. More specifically, the privacy of children.

Nowadays, it seems it’s no longer a case of simply playing with Ken and Barbie as the imagination of a child takes over. As the article reports, various companies have been looking into how they can capture the imagination of children. One play item, in particular, is the Barbie Hello Dreamhouse and Hello Barbie.

Created by the American toy-company Mattel, Inc., Barbie has been in existence since 1959. Designed by businesswoman Ruth Handler, Barbie has maintained its popularity with children up to the present day for nearly 60 years.

But, in a bid to keep up with technological advances in the 21st century, Mattel, Inc., has created the Barbie Hello Dreamhouse, a pink-and-white smart house for the world’s most popular doll. Apparently, the Hello Barbie is reported to be able to talk to a child on a number of topics ranging – as the New Scientist states – ‘from fashion and family to dreams and paddleboarding.’

Nothing wrong with that, you might think.

Except for the fact that when a child presses Barbie’s buckle to talk to her, every word the child makes is then transmitted to a Mattel-owned server farm where it is analyzed so that a suitable reply can be sent back to the child.

Sending Details to Third Parties

Shockingly, the information that was being stored was also being sent on to third parties, which, naturally, ensued a backlash.

According to Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), who launched a social media campaign #HellNoBarbie, he said that:

It just struck us as such as invasion of children’s privacy.

Open to Hackers

Children, in their innocence, don’t realize that what they are telling their dolls may now be listened to by others. This can also include hackers.

Even though toys may seem above anything else, they can just as easily become a target for hackers too.

In 2015, Chinese company VTech was targeted by hackers. Reports stated that nearly five million parents and more than 200,000 children had their information stolen after a hacker breached the servers of the toy company.

As such privacy activists have objected not only because of the concern from others listening in or the vulnerability that toys can pose, but also because it can take away the nature of a child’s play.

Taking Away the Child’s Imagination

Of course, if you walk into someone’s house, the chances are that you will find a vast array of smart technology around. Consider digital assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Allo to name a few.

Toys, however, don’t need to be smart, do they?

After all, when it comes to child’s play that’s when a child learns how to figure out skills while playing out a fantasy world that only they see in their eyes. By playing with toys that are already preprogramed with answers seems to only hinder a child’s play rather than broaden it.

Featured image from Shutterstock.