Four reasons we’re concerned about Mattel’s “digital nanny” Aristotle

In July 2017, the loving guidance of a parent or caretaker has new competition from Aristotle, a “digital nanny” from toy-maker Mattel. The internet-connected device, which includes a microphone and camera, is designed to live in a child’s bedroom from birth and be a constant companion as she grows up. Mattel boasts Aristotle can “soothe” crying baby, help toddlers learn to speak, and facilitate learning in older children. They even say that they hope children will form “emotional ties” with the device.

Together with our friends at the Center for a Commercial Free Childhood, we’re raising the alarm about this new corporate intrusion into children’s bedrooms, which should be safe spaces for playing, learning, and growing. Here are the top four reasons we’re asking Mattel CEO Margaret Georgiadis to pull the plug on Aristotle.

  1. Internet-connected baby monitors are vulnerable to intrusion, and there are countless disturbing stories that prove the threat is real. Take this hacker who not only spied through a family’s baby monitor, but used it to talk to their child at night. Or, this family who woke up to a stranger screaming at their 10 month-old infant through their monitor. There’s even a search engine which indexes vulnerable webcam feeds, allowing users to peer into people’s lives without writing a single line of code.
  2. Mattel admits that they don’t know how Aristotle will impact childhood development. Here’s what their chief products officer had to say on the topic: “Honestly speaking, we just don’t know. If we’re successful, kids will form some emotional ties to this. Hopefully, it will be the right types of emotional ties.” Mattel seems poised to use real kids as guinea pigs in an AI experiment with real consequences. [Concerned yet? Take a moment to sign the petition asking Mattel to pull the plug on Aristotle].
  3. Mattel doesn’t have kids’ or families’ best interests at heart. Mattel is a publicly-traded corporation with one responsibility: to maximize profit for its shareholders. To do so, Mattel is likely to squeeze value out of every interaction with Aristotle. That could mean selling kids’ data to partners, or having the device advertise products directly to kids. Of course, that advertising wouldn’t sound like a regular TV commercial; it would leverage that data and the child’s “relationship” with Aristotle to create hyper-compelling messages. “This is not a toy in the classic sense,” says Kade Crockford of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “It’s a data collection device owned and operated by a for-profit corporation”
  4. A “digital nanny” is no substitute for a living, loving caregiver. Mattel says Aristotle will soothe a crying baby with “nightlights, lullabies, and sleep sounds.” But pediatrician Dr. Dipesh Navsaria says, “a baby awakening in the night needs more than smoke-and-mirrors ‘soothing’ from a machine. They need the nuanced judgment of a loving caregiver, to decide when the child needs care and nurturing and when the child should be allowed to sooth themselves.” Mattel also says that Aristotle can read stories to your child. Pediatrics professor Dr. Robert Needlman isn’t convinced: “Story time is about much more than listening to someone read a book. The benefits of bedtime stories come not just from the stories themselves, but from the bonding ritual and emotional and physical interaction between parent and child.” Read more expert opinions from the Center for a Commercial Free Childhood.

We’re deeply concerned that Mattel’s new “digital nanny” violates basic standards of safety and sanity. That’s why we’re calling on CEO Margaret Georgiadis to pull the plug on Aristotle. Childhood should be a time for playing, learning, and growing – free from corporate intrusion and robot relationships. Add your name to the petition!

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