Digital parents of ‘Hello Barbie’ say she talks and listens to kids but can’t disclose anything about them

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 1.41.40 PMBy Larry Magid

If you have small children, you can now buy Mattel’s Hello Barbie ($75), which not only talks, but listens. I sat down with her digital parents, the founders of San Francisco-based ToyTalk, which makes the software and operates the cloud-based service that handles the interaction between Barbie and its owner. I also had a chat with Barbie.

ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob and CTO Martin Reddy explained how Barbie works and, for the most part, allayed my fears about Barbie being hackable. It’s not impossible, but they assure me that there is no identifiable data about the children that is uploaded to their servers.

“From the ground up we have built the doll to be a very secure and safe. All transmission happen over a secure connection. We can update the firmware on the doll but only if the firmware has been signed by ToyTalk,” said Martin Reddy. He added that even if a hacker were to get their hands on the doll’s firmware, they would not be able to obtain any personal information about the user. He said that you have to configure Barbie with your WiFi credentials but those are stored on the doll in an encrypted area. ToyTalk does receive children’s voices in real time which they use to provoke a response from Barbie and he said that they do store those voices to improve their speech recognition but do not associate any speech samples with any specific children.  He said that, in keeping with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, they do not ask or store any identifiable information about the user such as name or location.

Still, there are reports about Barbie’s vulnerability to attacks, including one report that claims that she “utilizes an authentication credential that can be re-used by attackers” and “connects a mobile device to any unsecured Wi-Fi network if it has “Barbie” in the name,” and is “shipped with unused code that serves no function but increases the overall attack surface.”

As per my conversation with Barbie, well, it wasn’t all that deep. You can listen to a clip from that along with my CBS News interview with ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob and CTO Martin Reddy by clicking below.

Here’s my one-minute CBS News Tech Talk segment that includes a sound byte from ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob