On the Heels of Congressional Inquiry, Advocates Ask Mattel to Scrap “Aristotle,” AI Device Which Spies on Babies & Kids

Date of Release: 

Monday, October 2, 2017

For Immediate Release

David Monahan, david@commercialfreechildhood.org, 617-896-9397
Brett Chamberlin, brett@storyofstuff.org, 510-883-1055

On the Heels of Congressional Inquiry, Advocates Ask Mattel to Scrap “Aristotle,” AI Device Which Spies on Babies & Kids

Boston – Monday, October 2, 2017 – Today, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and The Story of Stuff Project called on Mattel to cancel plans to sell “Aristotle,” the first Amazon Echo-type listening and talking device designed specifically for babies and young children. The groups sent a letter and 15,000 petition signatures asking Mattel to scrap Aristotle and put the well-being of children first. The advocates’ demand comes on the heels of a bipartisan Congressional letter to Mattel raising serious concerns about Aristotle.

Last week, U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) and U.S. Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) sent a letter to Mattel demanding information on measures the company will take to protect families’ privacy and secure data obtained through the device. They wrote, “This new product has the potential to raise serious privacy concerns as Mattel can build an in-depth profile of children and their family. It appears that never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child.” Aristotle, which Mattel describes as a “smart baby monitor” that grows into an AI “friend” for children, is Wi-Fi enabled and has a camera and microphone. It is meant to live in a child’s bedroom from birth to adolescence and be a constant companion that a child can, according to Mattel, “become comfortable with and feel close to.”

The advocacy groups launched their petition drive in May of 2017, after Mattel announced plans to release Aristotle in July 2017. The device has yet to hit the market, and according to Mattel, its release is now delayed until 2018.

“We hope Mattel will use this delay to rethink its plans to exploit parents’ anxieties in order to sell them an unnecessary and potentially harmful device,” said CCFC’s Executive Director Josh Golin. “Aristotle would inject corporate surveillance and marketing into the most intimate and important moments of young children’s lives. Let’s hope Mattel will do the right thing and put healthy child development ahead of profits, and never let Aristotle anywhere near a child’s bedroom.”

The advocates’ campaign has cited Aristotle’s threats to children’s welfare and privacy and is bolstered by experts, including pediatrician Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, who expressed concern that children “need the nuanced judgment of a loving caregiver” when they awaken in the night, not “smoke and mirrors soothing” from Aristotle. Victoria L Dunckley, M.D., integrative child psychiatrist and author of Reset Your Child's Brain, said, “The danger of products like Aristotle is that they become yet another form of electronic babysitting. Healthy attachment—the single best predictor of brain development—requires human interaction: eye contact, smell, touch, a heartbeat, and a sense of being loved.”

“Every electronic gadget that comes into the home is part of our take-make-waste economy: we use the planet's resources to make Stuff that will eventually end up in landfills, imposing a cost on people and the planet every step of the way,” said Brett Chamberlin, Program Manager at the Story of Stuff Project. “Aristotle imposes an extra cost on families by turning kids' bedrooms into a corporate experiment. Children should be able to live free from surveillance, intrusive marketing, and the artificial affection of a digital nanny. Let's protect childhood as a time for growth and creative play, not another opportunity for corporate profit.”