Unrest assured

8 02 2013

“Eight! Five! Four! Three!”.

Four words that I am tired of hearing by now.

“Eight! Five! Four! Three!”.

My oldest (8yo) daughter finally saved up some money for that secret digital diary, and she was so excited she could hardly get to sleep. “Tomorrow I will go buy my secret diary! And it’s totally secret! You can only unlock it by whispering the secret password! It’s gonna be neat, daddy!”.

Next day I looked up what the fuss was all about, and found this description on the manufacturer’s website:

“Rest assured that your secrets will be kept fully safe in this digital diary.
With VTech’s revolutionary voice recognition technology, you can set an audio password that only you can enter to the diary. Even when others find out about your password, the voice recognition feature will only recognise the tone of your voice, and only let you in.”

Wow. That actually sounded pretty cool for a kid’s toy. I would love to get my hands on that one, explore it to test their pretty bold claims. When I came home from work the next day, my daughter beat me to it. She had locked herself up in her room with her new secret toy, only to come out a couple of hours later.

“This is so cool, daddy. Look!”

She pressed a button on the pink gizmo.

“Say your password” – Beep – “Eight! Five! Four! Three!”. “Password not recognized”. Umph.
“Say your password” – Beep – “Eight! Five! Four! Three!”. “Password not recognized”.

No signs of frustration on the 8 year-old face yet. “Hold on.”

“What’s happening here? It doesn’t work?”.

“Yes it does. But not always. Sometimes it just doesn’t recognize the password.”

“Your very secret password? The 8543 you keep on yelling at it?”

“Yes”

“Say your password” – Beep – “Eight! Five! Four! Three!”. “Welcome” <harp music>.

“See? Now it works.”

“Well, that’s strange, don’t you think? What did you do differently now compared to your previous attempts?”

“No idea, daddy”. She closes the thing again. Beep. “8!5!4!3!”. “Password not recognized”.

It puzzles me that she’s not really interested in the cause. The thing only works one out of four attemps, and she seems perfectly fine with it.

A couple of 8543-filled days later, as the oldest daughter is off to a birthday party, the youngest one (5 yo) decides to seize the opportunity. She had been quietly watching her sister the past days, not even bothering to try – probably knowing that the oldest would strongly object.

“Can I have a look at sis’ secret diary daddy?”

“Sure. But you probably won’t get too far, it is made especially to prevent others from…”

“Say your password” – Beep – “Eight Five Four Three”. “Welcome” <harp music>. Big triumphant smile.

On. Her. First. Try. And their voices don’t even sound alike!
Granted, they’re sisters, their voices may be similar, but still there is a significant difference. And I would think that this thing is made specifically to shield your secrets from curious sisters.

Is there a problem here? What happened? After this revelation I tried to open it, and it manages to keep me locked out, where I should be. My wife is not able to enter the realm of secrets either. But little sisters, on the other hand, seem to have a bigger accuracy rate than the actual voice owners.

So, two very apparent problems:

- The diary doesn’t open when it should
– The diary opens when it shouldn’t

It turned out that the reason why the oldest had a hard time getting passed the passphrase was her impatience. Impatience is her middle name – she just couldn’t wait to yell 8-5-4-3 until a while after the beep – most of the time she started the password phrase at the same time of the beep. When she respected the little pause, her success rate tripled.

The second problem is a bit trickier. I’m trying to imagine if and how this toy was tested. Security for kids is probably not very high on most stakeholders’ priority lists. They probably tested a couple of scenarios with kids of different ages and gender, maybe a deep-voiced parent here and there. Did they include voices from siblings? Siblings aren’t corner cases – they represent realistic real life scenarios, with a high probability of diary sneaking. Granted, the kids don’t really make much of it, but the oldest was not amused when she found out about the security breach. If you make these bold claims about your product, and your product’s whole advertising and unique selling proposition is centered on this very feature, can you please make sure that it – you know – “works”?

V-Tech – frustrating tester parents since 2013.

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3 responses

8 02 2013
Jeroen Mengerink

Great story Zeger. I suppose we should talk to Bart and make him get the secret diary into the TestLab. Maybe you could bring you kids to help with the testing then too.

8 02 2013
andersdinsen

Indeed, a great story. So far it sounds like the product is bug free to those who matters: Parents can’t open it, sisters can. Just the way it should be (don’t forget that a secret diary is worth nothing if it’s kept secret…)

13 03 2013
Knotwilg

I’m not too sure about that, Anders. The major quibbles in our double daughter house repeat the same punch line: “don’t touch my stuff”.

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