Campaigners ask Mattel to can its Aristotle smart-speaker for kids

Stuart Dredge
Oct 2, 2017 · 2 min read

Mattel is under fire from a pair of US campaigning groups over its upcoming Aristotle gadget, which is a ‘smart speaker’ (like Amazon’s Echo) aimed at children, which will tell stories, answer questions and play voice-controlled games.

The device was unveiled earlier this year, but US groups the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and The Story of Stuff Project have just sent a letter and petition with 15,000 signatures to Mattel asking the company to cancel the product.

“Aristotle would inject corporate surveillance and marketing into the most intimate and important moments of young children’s lives,” said the CCFC’s executive director Josh Golin today. “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 two groups are worried about Aristotle for several reasons, from privacy and concern about its promised ability to soothe young children back to sleep if they wake up in the night – the criticism being that this is something that’s important for parents or carers to do – through to environmental issues around how these devices are made and disposed of.

“Children should be able to live free from surveillance, intrusive marketing, and the artificial affection of a digital nanny,” said Brett Chamberlin from the Story of Stuff Project. “Let’s protect childhood as a time for growth and creative play, not another opportunity for corporate profit.”

As the groups pointed out today, a pair of US politicians wrote to Mattel last week asking how the company plans to protect children’s privacy as well as any data collected on them.

Smart speakers are a big new market for the technology industry: one recent study estimated that 35.6 million people in the US alone will use a smart speaker this year, for example. Amazon’s Echo, Google Home and Apple’s upcoming HomePod are three of the most high-profile examples, although Aristotle is one of the first examples aimed specifically at children.

Amazon recently announced its plans to launch ‘kid skills’ – voice-enabled apps for children – on its Echo devices, with Sesame Street and SpongeBob SquarePants among the first examples. But any use of a device that listens out for your speech and stores data on what you ask it is going to spark important questions about privacy (as well as commerciality) once it’s being used by children.

For now, we’re only hearing one side of the Aristotle story: it’s right that Mattel should be asked these questions, but it will also be important to listen to its answers. I’ll update this story when the company does respond publicly.

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Stuart Dredge

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Scribbler about apps, digital music, games and consumer technology. Skills: slouching, typing fast. Usually simultaneously.

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Advice for parents of digital kids – from apps, coding and games to internet safety