Toymaker Mattel Unplugs Web-Connected Child-Monitoring Device


Infants rarely keep regular schedules, often waking up in the middle of the night, crying and screaming for a myriad of mysterious reasons. Parents and caretakers sacrifice sleep and sanity to watch over infants and help them fall back asleep. What if there was an internet-connected nursery gadget that could help out?  

This is exactly what toymaker Mattel Inc. wanted to introduce to the market when it unveiled “Aristotle,” an internet-connected, artificial intelligence “kids room platform” developed with Microsoft Corp., Qualcomm Technologies Inc., and Silk Labs Inc. Mattel said that “unlike other voice activated, AI-driven connected home platforms, Aristotle is designed with a specific purpose and mission: to aid parents and use the most advanced AI-driven technology to make it easier for them to protect, develop, and nurture” their children. According to Mattel, Aristotle uses its artificial intelligence capabilities to “sooth a crying baby” by playing a lullaby and features a Wi-Fi camera that allows parents to look after kids.

However, some privacy advocacy groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy, were concerned that Aristotle was eavesdropping on children and collecting children’s information, Bloomberg News reported. Aristotle “sends data on nap times and diaper changes to a corresponding smartphone app and, with permission, uploads it to the cloud,” Bloomberg said. Sherry Turkle, a professor of social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology described Aristotle’s lullaby capability as “exactly the wrong thing for a computer to be doing,” according to the article.

According to Mattel, however, Aristotle was designed with protection of children’s privacy in mind. In its announcement, the company said Aristotle was created with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act “compliance in mind.” COPPA requires companies to get “verifiable parental consent” before collecting personal information from children under 13. 

Mattel, the El Segundo, Calif.-based toymaker, told Bloomberg BNA that the company ultimately decided not to release Aristotle, but noted that it wasn’t pulled “due to privacy concerns.” Mattel spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni said that the company was “confident in Aristotle’s data security technology.” She said that after Mattel’s Chief Technology Officer Sven Gerjets “conducted an extensive review of the Aristotle product and decided that it did not fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.”

Aristotle isn’t the first time that Mattel was accused of encroaching on children’s privacy. Last year, Mattel, Viacom Inc., Hasbro Inc. and JumpStart Games Inc. agreed to pay the N.Y. Office of Attorney General $835,000  to settle allegations that the companies' websites allowed third-party vendors to track the online activity of children.

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