Privacy protests lead Mattel to cancel child-focused AI smart hub


In 2017, after protests from children's health and privacy advocates, Mattel cancelled its planned child-focused "Aristotle" smart hub. Aristotle was designed to adapt to and learn about the child as they grew while controlling devices from night lights to homework aids. However, Aristotle was only one of many tech devices being released onto the market to take over functions that have traditionally been part of the intimate relationship between children and their parents: a smart cradle that rocks a baby autonomously, a cushion to calm colicky babies, and Mattel's Hello Barbie, which uses machine learning and cloud-based artificial intelligence to converse with its child owner.

These devices collect and store enormous amounts of data derived from their interactions with their child owners: the children's preferences, details of their family lives, and what they say. This poses a serious privacy risk, even when the law, as in the US, prohibits the sale of this information to advertisers. Hello Barbie, for example, learns information about family members and incorporates it into conversation. An additional concern raised by child development experts is that little is known about the effect of tech devices on early childhood development, especially if that device is more immediately responsive than any of the people in the child's environment.

Writer: Hayley Tsukayama
Publication: Washington Post
Publication date: 2017-10-04

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