Ready or not: Barbie is an identity provider…

From Wired's THREAT LEVEL, news of an identity provider for girls.

Just today at the CSI Conference in Washington, DC, Robert Richardson was saying he saw signs everywhere that we were “on the cusp of digital identity truly going mainstream”.  Could anything be more emblematic of this than the emergence of Barbie as an identity provider?  It's really a sign of the times. 

From the comments on the Wired site (which are must-reads), it seems Mattel would be a lot better off giving parents control over whitelist settings (Law 1:  user control and consent).  It would be interesting to review other aspects of the implementation.  I guess we should be talking to Mattel about support for “Barbie Cards” and minimal disclosure…  I certainly tip my hat to those involved at Mattel for understanding the role identity can play for their customers.

At last, a USB security token for girls! 

Pre-teens in Mattels’ free Barbie Girls virtual world can chat with their friends online using a feature called Secret B Chat. But as an ingenious (and presumably profitable) bulwark against internet scum, Mattel only lets girls chat with “Best Friends,” defined as people they know in real life.

That relationship first has to be authenticated by way of the Barbie Girl, a $59.95 MP3 player that looks like a cross between a Bratz doll and a Cue Cat, and was recently rated one of the hottest new toys of the 2008 holiday season.

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.

Now when Sally gets home, the two can talk in Secret B Chat. (If Sally's parents can't afford the gadget, then she has no business calling herself Tiffany's best friend.)

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.

Without the device, girls can only chat over Barbie Girls’ standard chat system, which limits them to a menu of greetings, questions and phrases pre-selected by Mattel for their wholesome quality. 

In contrast, Secret B Chat  lets girls chat with their keyboards — just like a real chat room. But it limits the girl-talk to a white list of approved words. “If you happen to use a word that's not on our list (even if it's not a bad one), it will get blocked,” the service cautioned girls at launch. “But don't worry —  we're always adding cool new words!”

By the way, Kevin Poulsen has to get the “High Tech Line of the Year Award” for “a PGP key signing party, but with cupcakes.”  Fantastic!

[Thanks to Sid Sidner at ACI for telling me about this one…]

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.

4 thoughts on “Ready or not: Barbie is an identity provider…”

  1. Um. If Barbie is going to practice minimum disclosure, then the only outfit you will be able to purchase for her is a burka, right?

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