Mattel ditches its child-focused smart hub following criticism

Mattel Aristotle

Mattel has taken another look at its smart-home device for kids and decided it doesn’t want to release it after all.

The decision to scrap Aristotle followed growing criticism from two camps: Privacy advocates and child-development experts.

Mattel took the wraps off its $300 child-focused hub at CES at the start of 2017. A kind of “Echo for kids,” the connected device made use of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and Internet of Things technology to offer a range of features designed to educate, entertain, and soothe your toddler.

So if, for example, your baby started crying in the middle of the night, Aristotle would spring into action, bringing up the lights, playing a lullaby, and sending an alert to the parents’ smartphones. A built-in camera also allowed it to function as a baby monitor, while incorporated mics enabled voice control.

But this week Mattel told the Washington Post it’s canceling plans to launch Aristotle as it doesn’t “fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.”

The decision was reportedly taken by Sven Gerjets, the company’s chief technology officer who joined Mattel in July, and comes amid mounting criticism of the product from privacy groups and child-development specialists.

In a letter sent to Mattel just a week ago, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) asked for more details on how the company would handle data collected by the device.

“Aristotle appears capable of recording and transmitting personal and sensitive information about a child’s development back to Mattel,” the pair wrote in the letter, adding, “Never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child … Consumers should know how this product will work and what measures Mattel will take to protect families’ privacy and secure their data.”

Mattel had said before that it would encrypt all gathered information and never sell it to a third-party, in compliance with COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), though such assurances would’ve done little to satisfy those anxious about other potential infringements such as camera hacks.

Child development

Pediatrician Jennifer Radesky told the Post she felt uneasy about how Aristotle might affect a child’s development, voicing concerns about how a piece of technology could become “the most responsive household member to a crying child, a child who wants to learn, or a child’s play ideas.”

While all of the major tech firms have been busy unveiling new smart speakers for the home, it seems there’s still plenty of work to be done before similar devices aimed at children gain broad acceptance.

This isn’t the first time Mattel has run into problems with one of its high-tech toys. In 2015 its Hello Barbie doll hit the headlines when security experts revealed that children’s recorded conversations with the Wi-Fi-connected doll could potentially be accessed by hackers.