Under Mounting Pressure, Mattel Pulls the Plug on ‘Alexa for Kids’
Slated for a 2018 release, Mattel's highly anticipated Aristotle was an AI smart hub for kids. But it was too smart for its own good.
Mattel scuttled its much-ballyhooed AI smart baby monitor, Aristotle, this week amid privacy concerns from child safety advocates and members of Congress. Billed as “Alexa for kids,” the smart hub was introduced in January at CES 2017 under Mattel’s Nabi brand but, despite an original July 2017 release date, had yet to come to market.
Without fully explaining why, the company announced in a statement on Wednesday that the product was being canceled because it didn’t “fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.” The strategy, it’s safe to assume, doesn’t include spying on children.
Aristotle was a voice-activated, smart hub for kids “designed to comfort, entertain, teach, and assist during each development state — evolving with a child as their needs change from infancy to adolescence.” Equipped with a camera, its initial use was in the nursery as a smart video monitor that streamed footage to parents’ smartphones. It sung lullabies, produced white noise, and worked as a nightlight.
But that’s not all. When the speaker heard the baby crying, it could automatically soothe them back to sleep like a night nurse you didn’t need to pay by the hour. As the kid grew up, Aristotle was supposed do everything from tell them stories to help with their math homework. Also, collect a ridiculous amount of data about them.
It didn’t take long for the device to catch the attention of parents and child safety experts who were concerned with how it would affect early childhood development and the amount of data it would actually grab. In May, Aristotle was targeted with an online petition by the nonprofit Commercial-Free Childhood which ended up collecting 1,500 signatures, 62 of which were from experts in the field of education, privacy, and childhood development.
“Young children shouldn’t be encouraged to form bonds and friendships with data-collecting devices,” read a letter the CFC sent to Mattel earlier this month. “Young children should not be guinea pigs for AI experiments. Please put the well-being of children first and end the production of Aristotle.”
The organization’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed, as two members of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), also sent a letter to Mattel inquiring as to how the company intended to protect users privacy. Considering all this and the fact that, that earlier this year an 11-year-old kid hacked into a teddy bear on stage at huge cyber security conference to demonstrate how easy it is for creepers to virtually break into a child’s room, Mattel was probably wise in pulling the plug on Aristotle without a fight.