In January 2017, Mattel announced Aristotle, a smart speaker created for use by children. Last week, the company confirmed that the device had been scrapped, amid concerns about children’s privacy.
Aristotle was designed to use natural language processing technology to get a better grasp on how children pronounced words over time. This isn’t too far removed from the way virtual assistant services learn about users’ habits, but when young people are involved, the issue obviously becomes a lot thornier.
Lead by a team of child development, education, and privacy experts, more than 15,000 people signed a petition to stop Mattel from selling Aristotle, and last week, Sen. Edward J. Markey and Rep. Joe Barton sent Mattel a letter requesting details on how the company planned to store data collected by Aristotle and how long they would retain that data.
The toymaker had previously committed to encrypting the data and pledged to not sell it to advertisers in order to protect children’s privacy. However, following the letter, Mattel released a statement declaring that their new chief technology officer, Sven Gerjets, had shuttered the project as part of a broad evaluation of all the company’s upcoming products.
The ever-increasing amount of internet-connected hardware in our homes is something of a double-edged sword.
For every instance where an Internet of Things (IoT) device has reported a crime or otherwise done some good, we can find another example of a piece of technology that comes dangerously close to infringing upon our privacy.
As we become even more connected as a society, we must take all the necessary steps to ensure that the advantages of smart home and IoT devices don’t come at the cost of our cybersecurity and general privacy.
Mattel claims that they had already made the decision to cancel Aristotle before receiving the letter from Sen. Markey and Rep. Barton, but elected officials certainly have cause to be proactive in monitoring products like this.