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RE: Barbie Becomes an Authentication Device for Pre-Teen Friendship | Threat Level


RE: Barbie Becomes an Authentication Device for Pre-Teen Friendship | Threat Level
by noteworthy at 10:54 pm EST, Nov 5, 2007

The idea is, Sally brings her Barbie Girl over to her friend Tiffany's house, and sets it in Tiffany's docking station -- which is plugged into a USB port on Tiffany's PC. Mattel's (Windows only) software apparently reads some sort of globally unique identifier embedded in Sally's Barbie Girl, and authenticates Sally as one of Tiffany's Best Friends.

It's sort of like an RSA token, but with cute fashion accessories and snap-on hair styles. THREAT LEVEL foresees a wave of Barbie Girl parties in the future, where tweens all meet and authenticate to each other -- like a PGP key signing party, but with cupcakes.

This product was covered in the Times and on HBR IdeaCast #56 back in July; it didn't occur to me to meme it, although I did mention that I found the book, Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity And the New Science of Ideas, to be somewhat hokey and lacking in context.

Now, four months later, the echoes of the story are being reinterpreted as some kind of latent victory for long-view cypherpunks. Highly dubious.

I am confident that a cursory examination of said product will reveal that the embedded data is in no way "like an RSA token", and that there is in fact nothing cryptographically significant going on here.

I suspect one could demonstrate a Best Friend cloning/spoofing tool without too much effort.

I haven't read the user manual, but this product could be considered to encourage pre-teens to engage in unsafe docking behavior. With minor modifications, one of these dolls could introduce malware onto the systems of unsuspecting Best Friends.

Author Richard Ogle says:

It's not the first time Mattel has tried to connect toys to the Internet. But the company made mistakes in its previous attempts. Those mistakes contain important innovation lessons that all managers can and should remember.

Here are the two most important lessons:

1. Timing is everything
In the late 1990s several companies, Mattel among them, came up with toys that could interact with an online world ... What doomed these products was not defects in conception or execution so much as the fact that Internet connections were just too slow and clunky.

2. Challenge your channel assumptions
As Louise Story noted in her New York Times article “Barbie Gets Another Accessory”, there is an important new phenomenon, in addition to broadband connectivity, showing up that underlies the rush to link toys to the online world in this second round. Kids no longer distinguish between “real” toys and games and virtual ones.

As I point out in Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas, businesses often get stuck in a dominant "idea-space" (e.g., websites = advertising), and are slow to see the creative opportunity offered by an emerging space (virtual play online = real-life play).

These strike me as rather obvious "lessons". (Bear in mind that there are apparently other lessons, but these are deemed the Most Important.)

RE: Barbie Becomes an Authentication Device for Pre-Teen Friendship | Threat Level

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