Despite announcing the product in January, toy giant Mattel has still not released the always-on, always-listening Aristotle kid monitor that has already raised red flags among privacy advocates. Now, a bipartisan pair of U.S. legislators are asking Mattel to address what they see as serious concerns about this connected-home device that is intended to track info about your kid from birth through adolescence.
In a letter [PDF] sent this week by Sen. Ed Markey (MA), and Rep. Joe Barton (TX) to Mattel CEO Margaret Giorgiadis, the lawmakers say they have “serious privacy concerns” about Aristotle’s ability to build an “in-depth profile of children and their family.”
Aristotle isn’t just a web-connected video camera or audio monitor. According to marketing materials for the device, it will be able to track things like kids’ feeding and sleeping patterns. As they get older, it would be able to answer users’ questions, much like other digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Home.
“It appears that never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child,” reads the letter, which goes on to pose a series of questions about Aristotle, including:
• Does it shoot and collect any photo or video, or use facial-recognition tech?
• Does it record audio of children speaking within listening distance of Aristotle? If so, how and where (and how securely) are these file stored?
• Is it truly an “always-on” device, meaning it collects data regardless of whether it’s actively being used?
• What data will be transmitted to, and stored on, Mattel servers?
• What information will be shared with third parties?
• What measures have been taken to make sure Aristotle gets parental permissions when needed, and that it complies with federal laws regarding online products targeted at children?
Barton and Markey have given Mattel until Oct. 18 to reply.
We’ve reached out to Mattel for comment about the letter, but have not yet received a reply.
Consumerist did, however, recently get a statement from Mattel on why Aristotle had not yet been released.
“While we are confident in the Aristotle product and its potential to play an important role in the lives of families around the world, we have decided not to launch this Fall in order to ensure it is fully aligned with Mattel’s new technology strategy, which includes a common platform approach for all of Mattel’s Artificial Intelligence-driven tech toys,” read the statement. “This will allow us to be certain that Aristotle and future voice-enabled tech products will benefit from a central Mattel architecture that streamlines development and drives consistent insights for product evolution and business enhancements, and, most importantly, improves products and services for our customers.”
Aristotle is technically a product of nabi, a kid-focused tech company. Mattel purchased nabi’s parent company Fuhu shortly before announcing the Aristotle, so now the brand is under the Mattel umbrella.
Interestingly, while the original Aristotle press release is still available on the Mattel corporate website, the page once dedicated to Aristotle on the nabi site has been removed (though you can still see it via the Internet Archive), and a search of the nabi site turns up no results for Aristotle.
Mattel is no stranger to privacy concerns. Its “Hello Barbie” talking doll was slammed by privacy and family advocates for recording kids’ conversations and transmitting those recordings to third parties, and was eventually named worst toy of the year by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
Last year, Mattel agreed to pay $200,000 to settle allegations brought by the New York state Attorney General’s office that several of its kid-targeted websites were in violation of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by allegedly collecting information on kid users without parental authorization and sharing this data with third parties that tracked the youngsters as they continued to browse the web.