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Toy maker Mattel has unveiled a new Barbie that talks and remembers kids’ unique preferences. “Hello Barbie” is being marketed as a cutting-edge toy that builds relationships, but one German magazine says she is more like a Soviet-era informant.
The latest incarnation of Mattel’s flagship doll was curtly re-baptised “Barbie IM” by German weekly Stern. The initials stand for “Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter”, informants who worked for East Germany’s infamous secret police, the Stasi, during the Cold War.
The toy and game manufacturer highlights Hello Barbie’s voice recognition and wifi capabilities, which allow the company to store information and use it to simulate real conversations between doll and child.
While impressed with this use of new technology, Stern saw it as problematic.
“As if the idea of an IM Barbie was not alarming enough, Mattel also wants to save children’s personal tastes. Purportedly this is so [Hello Barbie] can provide appropriate responses when prompted. But we can easily imagine the value that a database that collects children’s tastes has for a toy manufacturing company,” the magazine wrote in an article published last week.
“Maybe it’s only a matter of time before Hello Barbie starts asking for a pony,” Stern quipped.
“Hello Barbie” is intended for the US, not German, market, but Stern’s harsh comparisons to Soviet intelligence services could translate into bad publicity for what is perhaps the world’s most famous doll.
It wouldn’t be a first. Barbie has been the subject of controversy in the past, often accused of conveying sexist ideas.
“Teen Talk Barbie” was blasted in 1992 for mainly inciting girls to shop and for uttering the phrase “Math class is tough!”. Barbie Video Girl, who appeared in 2010 equipped with a camera and screen, also raised concern among authorities who feared the images could be exploited by paedophiles.