Barbie is suddenly cool again. Picture: Supplied
Barbie is suddenly cool again. Picture: Supplied

New hi-tech Barbies are spying on our kids

LET me tell you about a 59-year-old woman who makes billions of dollars a year.

Her name is Barbie, and, after years of being in the (toy) doghouse, she's suddenly cool again. Last week, toy conglomerate Mattel reported a 12 per cent rise in sales of the buxom blonde.

"Mattel is trying to lure customers back by recasting the toy's image to play up not only the nostalgia but a newer notion: they're beneficial to child development," says the Washington Post.

Crikey. When I was a kid, all Barbie did was promote an unrealistic body image.

(Doctors have said that if Barbie were real she'd only have room for half a liver and a few inches of intestine. Yet apparently there is room for a much bigger brain.)

OK, so Mattel hasn't upgraded her liver, intestines or brain … but they have added a touch of tech.

Enter Hello Barbie.

Here's how Mattel describes the latest round of plastic surgery they've performed on the world's favourite rake-thin, FF-breasted doll: "The No. 1 thing girls have asked for, is to have a conversation with Barbie. Well, using wi-fi and speech recognition technology … now they can! Girls want to learn, tell stories and make friends … and for the first time Barbie recognises what girls are saying, and can respond!"

Uh-huh. Here's what's really happening: "A microphone records little girls' private conversations," says Susan Linn, from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

"It transmits those conversations to cloud servers where they are analysed by algorithms and are listened to by employees of Mattel and its technology partner, Toy Talk, and they are shared with unnamed third parties."


"Hello Barbie asks many questions that would elicit information about a child, her interests, and her family, which could be of great value to advertisers," says Angela Campbell, director of communication at Georgetown Law School.

Clearly this is outrageous.

We need to protect our vulnerable little children from a conglomerate that is openly spying on them.

They're kids, for goodness' sake! I mean, they're not old enough to understand the long-term ramifications of giving up their privacy, and having their data sold and later used against them. As adults we obviously wouldn't fall for that, right?

Wait a second …

Yes, some of the fastest-selling tech gadgets on the planet right now are Amazon Alexa and Google Home ‒ voice-activated speakers, which are constantly listening in on our conversations.

Oh, and then there's the cute-looking Alexa Alarm Clock, which has an in-built camera and microphone … in your bedroom! Barbie may be off her rocker, but we're all being played like toys by big-tech conglomerates.

Tread Your Own Path!



CHRISTINA ASKS: I am 23 and have fallen in love with a 28-year-old who earns $135,000 a year (a lot more than me).

He works in construction six days a week (overtime on Saturdays) and he is absolutely set on buying a house ASAP.

I love his commitment to the future and to us, but he is always tired and run down and is rarely available to spend time with friends and family.

Is he doing the right thing by working as much as possible?

I would like him to take Saturday off occasionally, or am I being immature?

BAREFOOT REPLIES: I'm pretty sure my wife said the same thing about me when we first met!

Sounds to me like your bloke has his head screwed on properly: he's working hard for the future.

You can get away with doing that in your 20s, before the triple Ms (marriage, mortgage and midgets).

After that, it gets tougher: your time isn't your own.

A construction worker focusing on the future has his head screwed on properly.
A construction worker focusing on the future has his head screwed on properly.

It's often said that you spend your 20s learning and your 30s earning - and that it sets you up for living a very different life in your 40s and beyond.

There are two books I'd suggest you read - both of you, I mean: the first is mine (obviously!), which sets out the Barefoot Steps that will keep you safe.

The second is How Much Is Enough? by Arun Abey.

This book has practical exercises that you can do, as a couple, to ensure you put work and the accumulation of wealth in its proper context.

I'll leave the final word to my dearly departed 92-year-old grandmother, who always advised: "Whatever you do, don't marry a lazy person."

Good advice, Grandma.



NINA ASKS: I am on unpaid maternity leave. My fiance started a new job when our first bub was born in April.

We have our wedding this year in December.

We are already in $12,000 debt on a CBA credit card, and still need another $20,000 for the wedding.

I am struggling to get a balance transfer done - NAB only approved $5000.

My fiance is being rejected too, as he has only been with his current job for five months. What is the best loan to get for our wedding?

BAREFOOT REPLIES: I remember when we bought our son home.

For the next few months we were shellshocked, and were very sure we'd never do it again. (Today we have three kids.)

You've been on the same rollercoaster, only worse: your husband has the stress of changing jobs, and you're under financial stress.

And you have a brand new little human that is solely dependent on you.

I totally understand you want to have the magical wedding you've always promised yourself.

However, you're broke.

If you take out a $20,000 loan for one day, you'll pay for it in financial stress over many years.

If I were in your situation I'd do one of two things:

DELAY the wedding by 12 months until you're in a better financial position or;

HAVE a magical low-cost backyard wedding with your family and friends.

In fact, why not do both?

Remember, you're creating your own family stories: years from now you'll be able to tell your kids that you got married in the backyard because you were frugal and put your kids first.



TIM ASKS: After reading your story about Mia last week, I thought I too would have a little peek-a-boo at my MLC Masterkey account.

I thought my 2012 statement was a good start given that was the year MLC introduced its cracker of a fee for their "phantom advice".

Much like Mia, I never attended a financial adviser.

Checking the fine print in your statement can pay off.
Checking the fine print in your statement can pay off.

Horror reading: it starts in 2013, with a $242.17 fee and increasing each year, with a total plan service fee paid currently sitting at $2115.85.

So thank you, Mia. I'm going to get back my money!


This week the Royal Commission read out a leaked NAB document, in which the bank explained why they liked charging customers commissions:
"As you know, commission-based remuneration structures are opaque, lack any corresponding customer service obligations and are not generally understood by customers."

Hot diggity dang!

I spoke to Mia this week, who is incredibly proud to have played a small part in helping keep her super fund accountable, and inadvertently helping hundreds of thousands of other MLC members.

I also spoke to NAB and they told me that all MLC customers who were wrongly charged will be contacted and refunded.

Though it wouldn't hurt to give them a call and gently remind them you want your money back, plus interest.

The Barefoot Investor holds an Australian Financial Services Licence (302081). This is general advice only. It should not replace individual, independent, personal financial advice