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Future Now | She Can Spy Too?

A researcher discovered how the doll, connected to Wi-Fi, could be hacked, getting access to information as well as audio files and the microphone. Hacking effectively turns the pretty blond into the doll from hell

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Some months ago a company called Mattel came up with a Barbie doll that could interact with children and talk right back to them, just like the voice assistants, Siri, Google Voice and Cortana, that are fast becoming part of life.

Cute? Not really. Soon after it was launched, it was found that the doll could understand a fair bit of context and respond accordingly such as making suggestions to kids or encouraging them to do something. This was greeted with a more than a little alarm by adults who worried at what the sweet looking doll could influence children to think and do – and especially, buy. In fact the immediate concern was about what would be marketed to the kids that owned these dolls.

Because Hello Barbie interacts it essentially means the responses of children talking to her will go off via a microphone to servers for processing. Now, months later, the worry over this doll and any other toys with the same skills has resurfaced. A researcher discovered how the doll, connected to Wi-Fi, could be hacked, getting access to information as well as audio files and the microphone, as he explained to NBC. Hacking effectively turns the pretty blond into the doll from hell. Anyone getting all this control could now say whatever they liked through the Barbie. There’s no limit to the information the doll could gather and hackers could rake in leading to possible scenarios no one even wants to imagine. Information such as exact whereabouts, and taking control of a home’s Wi-Fi and other devices.

Bad enough as the Hello Barbie doll could be, this is exactly the privacy concern that can easily plague many of the solutions that come into the ambit of the Internet of Things. Voice recognition and interactivity is being built into more and more devices whether they’re in the playroom, bedroom or kitchen. Amazon’s Echo speaker is an example. With technology galloping ahead with IoT and connected devices, the time to build in strong safeguards and rules is sooner rather than later.