Yes, that’s actually true. Mattel plans to release a new creepy version of Barbie that will be able to have conversations with children. Your child’s voice is recorded by a device in the doll and those recordings are sent over a server and processed so Barbie can respond. It gets creepier as it’s planned that the doll can be updated over Wi-Fi so it can keep your kid up to date on the latest trends.
And it’s not only the privacy of small children at risk these days. Certain Smart TVs now feature voice and gesture recognition. Of course, that’s nothing new and it’s all aimed at creating a better user experience. That said, Samsung has recently come under the spotlight for its Smart TVs' information collection activities and a look into its privacy policies (at least in some countries) gives an insight into a practice of large scale collection of juicy personal information: anything said (or gestured) in front of one of Samsung’s voice recognition enabled Smart TVs can be collected by Samsung and disclosed to a “third-party” which provides the voice recognition services.
So, do Samsung or Mattel need to collect the information? This is where the law steps in and waves its pointy finger about. The Australian Privacy Principles state that entities must not collect personal information unless the information is reasonably necessary for the entity’s functions or activities. This is regardless of whether individuals consent to that collection. Can you ask someone’s marital status when he wants to open a bank account? The Commissioner says no.
Sensitive information includes sexual orientation or practices, political opinions, and health information. We reckon a camera and microphone pointed at your couch, or a doll that records anything your child says, can collect all of it. So, is the collection of all your couch activities ‘reasonably necessary’ to provide a voice activation service? Does Barbie really need to know about your child’s cold? We’ll let the Privacy Commissioner answer that one, but it’s a strong reminder to businesses to review their collection practices to make sure they’re not poking their noses in where they shouldn’t.