Mom, My Barbie Needs A Better Firewall
from the Ken-is-a-nosy-bastard dept
Earlier this year, we noted that Barbie had received a face lift for the internet of things age. Hello Barbie is able to take commands from your kids, but also connects to your home Wi-Fi network to shovel your children’s conversations to the cloud — purportedly to improve Barbie’s voice recognition technology. At the time, groups like the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood complained that monetizing the ramblings of toddlers was a line that shouldn’t be crossed, given that kids would no longer be talking to a doll, they’d be “talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial.”
But beyond the ethical implications of marketing to kids is the more pressing lack of security and privacy standards apparent in most IOT devices. As hacked automobiles, tea kettles and refrigerators all perfectly illustrate, companies are so eager to cash in on the connected age that they “forget” about securing the end user. And now, as the Vtech hack recently illuminated, your kids’ toys are no exception. Neither is Hello (I’m an NSA operative) Barbie.
“There are all sorts of issues about where that info is going, who’s listening and what it’s being used for and how it might come back to haunt you,” said Lori Andrews, Professor IIT Kent College of Law.
Andrews describes the doll as a miniature surveillance device that can also record whatever else is going on in the room. The lengthy Barbie privacy statement discloses the company will report “a conversation that raises concern about the safety of a child or others”.
“The company has said it’s going to take on the role of alerting the authorities,” said Andrews. “And in their privacy statement they also say they’re going to respond to legal subpoenas.”
Here you were thinking you were just buying your child a Barbie. Little did you know you were providing an internal mole for use in future custody hearings. And again, like the Vtech hack reiterates, physical security of the toy itself is only a small part of the equation. Companies are so damn enamored with the lure of the Internet-of-whatsa-doodles, they tend to not only forget to secure the device, the transmission, and the storage, but they very often hungrily collect way more data than is actually necessary. The end result is a modern household full of toys, appliances and devices guarded by what’s at best paper-mache grade security standards.