On Tuesday, Mattel debuted Aristotle, a $300 home assistant for parents that has the latest in voice and image recognition, live streaming, and IoT compatibility. But in terms of privacy concerns, Aristotle embodies a new event horizon in tracking and surveilling children.
Touted in the press as “Alexa for kids,” the device’s core tech is actually a modified version of Cortana that can listen and respond to infants. Aristotle is billed as a cutting edge nanny, but no mistake: it’s inevitably a surveillance device. It watches, listens, and learns what babies are doing, linking the user interaction data to Mattel’s commercial partnerships.
For example, Aristotle can keep track of diaper changes and feedings, offering up opportunities to purchases new diapers and formula. Aristotle makes its suggestions from a curated list of retail partners including Babies “R” Us or Target. Aristotle is also open to third party development, with as many as 500 companies potentially building new apps and games into the device.
Fast Company reports that Aristotle “is equipped with a camera that streams video through an encrypted cloud connection to your phone,” acting as a futuristic baby monitor that lets parents watch their children. Aristotle also has object recognition AI that can scan objects in your baby’s room and recognize and interact with other Mattel toys. It’s a bit creepy—Aristotle does special things when it recognizes Mattel toys, implicitly compelling your infant to want to buy more toys in the Mattel line because they trigger unique reactions from Aristotle.
“Imagine what happens with Hot Wheels and Thomas the Train when you have this connected hub,” says Robb Fujioka, Mattel’s CPO. “Do you hear sound effects? Can you have greater interactions?”
Imagine what happens when Mattel set up lucrative partnerships with the same companies its been found to collude with while violating privacy laws (Viacom, Hasbro, and Jumpstart Games) to scan toys. Ultimately, Mattel and these toy creators have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for illegally tracking child behavior.
Mattel makes it clear that Aristotle is compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. But, it’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean the company can’t track children. Mattel just has to meet certain requirements in how explicitly they inform and get permission from parents.
So, to recap, we have a device that knows your baby’s age as well as sleeping and pooping schedule, can recognize both yours and your child’s voice, logs your purchasing habits and suggests buying new items from a curated list of commercial partners. It livestreams your sleeping baby and can recognize the objects in its room.
It will be interesting to see what happens when Aristotle goes on sale in June.
Update: 1/4/17 3pm ET: Mattel reached out to address concerns about privacy with Aristotle. Their statement is below:
“Keeping families safe and their data private is of utmost importance to Mattel and we have invested much of our time and research into this aspect of Aristotle. The AI and software architecture built for Aristotle is totally different from anything Mattel has previous done. It was developed by Mattel’s new nabi unit, the leader in technology for kids and families and the company that pioneered online protection for kids initially through its award winning tablet line. Mattel acquired the nabi brand earlier this year to specifically help bring this tech-driven approach to its digital products led by privacy and safety. Not only is the new Aristotle by nabi system COPPA compliant, and utilizes 256-bit encryption to keep your video stream secure, but it is also HIPPA compliant. This means that data is cached locally, is only accessible via the mobile device paired to Aristotle, and the data stored in the cloud can be accessed with parental approval along with the authorized devices.”