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Published December 12, 2010, 12:00 AM

Video Barbie worries FBI

Parents across country debate merits of new doll’s technology
If Barbie’s disproportionately thin waistline and professed view that “math is hard” caused parents to worry about her influence in the past, then a warning from the FBI regarding her latest antics certainly didn’t help her case.

By: Vikki Ortiz Healy and Bonnie Miller Rubin, McClatchy Newspapers, INFORUM

If Barbie’s disproportionately thin waistline and professed view that “math is hard” caused parents to worry about her influence in the past, then a warning from the FBI regarding her latest antics certainly didn’t help her case.

“I was furious when I saw it,” said Roseanne Petrucci of Elmhurst, Ill., as she walked past the empty shelves where stacks of Barbie Video Girl – a doll with a video camera hidden in her necklace – sold out at the Downers Grove Toys R Us on Wednesday.

Other parents argue that recent controversy surrounding the curvaceous doll – whose video version is a nominee for 2011 Toy of the Year – is unfounded.

“I have no concerns,” said Dawn Johnson of Westmont, Ill., who bought the doll for her 6-year-old daughter weeks ago. “We bought it early, thinking it was going to be popular.”

For the past week, parents across the country have debated the merits of Barbie Video Girl after the FBI released a cyber alert that reminded law enforcement agencies that such a doll could contain evidence in child pornography cases.

The FBI issued a follow-up statement Friday saying that the bureau has not seen any incidents that involved inappropriate use of the video Barbie, and that the alert was intended for law enforcement only and has been taken out of context.

But that hasn’t stopped some parents and child exploitation advocates from speaking out against the doll that can film up to 30 minutes of footage from a tiny camera lens below her neck. The video can then be downloaded and saved onto a computer.

“If they won’t take it off the market, it may get to the point where I won’t buy Barbie products anymore,” said Stephanie Pav of Western Springs, Ill., who says she is already discerning when it comes to selecting the popular dolls for her 3- and 6-year-old daughters.

“I even bought my 6-year-old a shirt that says ‘Barbie is a doll, not a role model,’ ” said Pav, who won’t buy Barbies wearing heavy eye makeup, halter tops or other risque clothing.

J. Robert Flores, a former deputy chief prosecutor in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section at the U.S. Department of Justice, said he had concerns about how the technology within the toy could be misused.

“At first blush, people will minimize the threat this kind of toy poses. But as soon as I heard it, I thought this was a recipe for disaster,” said the attorney, now in private practice in Virginia. “No one should be buying this for a child who is younger than 10 or 12.”

In some ways, the idea of incorporating modern-day technology into 51-year-old Barbie was the whole point of the toy, which debuted in June and is now available at mass retailers across the country, said Michelle Chidoni, Mattel spokeswoman.

“It’s all about playing with Barbie in new and different ways, incorporating that trend of the latest and greatest technology,” Chidoni said.

Although Mattel has fielded calls from concerned parents the past week, the company had no plans to remove Barbie Video Girl from store shelves as of Wednesday.

“We take very seriously our consumer feedback. We have been communicating with them, and this toy is absolutely safe and Mattel’s primary priority is toys that are safe,” Chidoni said.

The toy icon is no stranger to controversy. Over the decades, she has been linked to everything from early sexualization to encouraging little girls to reach for the stars (Some of her many incarnations have included “Astronaut Barbie”).

She strives to stay relevant, as with last year’s Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie, which came with a set of 40 tiny tats. Her attempts seem to be working. According to Mattel’s website, Barbie’s movies are watched an average of 10 times, and girls ages 3 to 6 own an average of 12 Barbie dolls.

Connie Wade, a 34-year-old mother from Lisle, said she was familiar with the recent debate over the video Barbie and can understand why some parents might choose not to buy the doll for their kids.

But in the end, the controversy wasn’t why she decided not to check Barbie Video Girl off of her 8-year-old’s wish list. Her daughter, Elizabeth, had asked for another toy – a Nintendo DS – which also had video camera capabilities, and Wade bought it.

“I think we’re good with video cameras right now,” she said.

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