Mattel canceled plans to release Aristotle, an Internet of Things (IoT) device meant for children, following criticism from privacy advocates. Aristotle was announced in January; the company said its launch was nixed by incoming chief technology officer Sven Gerjets after he was hired in July.
Aristotle was compoed of two components: a voice activated hub (similar to the Amazon Echo) and a connected camera. Mattel positioned the device as a tool for parents and children, with the idea being that the IoT device could adapt to a child's needs as they grow. It could provide sleep monitoring for infants, a night light for toddlers, and help with homework for elementary schoolers, among other things, without hardware changes.
Mattel said in the press release announcing Aristotle that it "has been built with COPPA compliance in mind" and that "HIPAA protocols guide many of our data transfer practices." It's important to note that Mattel didn't say Aristotle was COPPA- or HIPAA-compliant, merely that it had those guidelines in mind when it developed the product. Aristotle's actual protections weren't exactly clear—parents would've had to take the company at its word.
That's become an increasingly difficult pill to swallow in recent months. Just consider the internet-connected stuffed animals, for example, that leaked voice recordings and other private data. Or the smart Barbie doll that can be hacked. It's no wonder privacy groups have complained about insecure IoT kids' products, or that Consumer Reports developed a security and privacy standard, or that the FBI told parents to be wary of connected toys.
Those episodes and warnings make it harder to trust a voice-activated device connected to a camera. Many people fret about the privacy implications of bringing those devices into their homes at all; buying one specifically to help raise a child seems even riskier. (Even setting aside the science fiction worries about what will happen when all of our children are raised by machines.) It seems we don't have to worry about those ramifications...for now.
Here's what Mattel told us in a statement:
“After our new CTO, Sven Gerjets joined the company in July, he conducted an extensive review of the Aristotle product and decided that it did not fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy. The decision was then made not to bring Aristotle to the marketplace as part of an ongoing effort to deliver the best possible connected product experience to the consumer.”
It's not clear if Mattel plans to revisit the ideas behind Aristotle in the future or if the company has shied away from the IoT market at large. Both would make sense. The IoT is becoming increasingly popular despite its problems (insecurity, privacy fears, etc.), and it's natural for connected devices to take over the kids' aisle. Staying out of the market entirely could help Mattel avoid scrutiny and potential scandal, however.
We asked the company if Aristotle's cancellation is final and if it plans to revisit the idea in the future and will update this article if we get a response.