An unnerving new baby monitor is raising some privacy concerns among lawmakers, who are worried that the always-on device could build an “in-depth profile of children and their family,” in addition to the problem of, you know, allowing your kid to be raised by a robot.
The $299 Aristotle is similar in spirit to the Amazon Echo, only the scope of its features is much broader—and scarier. Last week, Senator Ed Markey and Representative Joe Barton sent a letter to Mattel CEO Margaret Giorgiadis about their issues with the tablet, which tracks things like kids’ eating and sleeping habits when they’re young, and adapts to answering their questions about long division and sex or whatever as they grow up.
According to nabi, the Mattel brand that developed the device, the Aristotle is meant to “provide parents with a platform that simplifies parenting, while helping them nurture, teach, and protect their young ones.” Not everyone is on board.
“It appears that never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child,” the lawmakers’ letter reads. It goes on to pose a series of questions about Aristotle’s security, like whether uses facial-recognition technology, or whether that information will be available to third parties.
But Markey and Barton aren’t the only ones squicked by Aristotle’s capabilities. Buzzfeed reports that privacy experts, parents and child psychologists are also concerned that the device “encourages babies to form bonds with inanimate objects and use information it collects for targeted advertising,” so much so that a petition has been launched to prevent it from going to market.
“We shouldn’t be using kids as AI experiments,” Josh Golin, executive director of the privacy advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told the site. “If we don’t know what the effect is, then we shouldn’t be putting that in children’s bedrooms.”
Mattel has said that Aristotle uses 256-bit end-to-end encryption when transmitting user information, and that the data is accessible only through paired model devices.
“Protecting the rights and privacy of our consumers is a top priority for Mattel,” a spokesperson told Buzzfeed. “We are committed to ensuring every product we make meets or exceeds all applicable laws and regulations, including connected products intended for children’s use.”
Just last year, Mattel agreed to pay $200,000 to the New York Attorney General’s office after being accused of violating the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, allegedly having collected children’s information without parental authorization and sharing that info with third parties.
But even if Mattel keeps customer data tightly secure this time around, Golen is still worried about the longterm effects of such technology.
“In addition to this device being marketed to replace parents there is also an issue of habituating children into a culture of surveillance,” he said. “If we teach children that its fine and ok to be surveilled, they’ll never grow up to think they’re entitled to privacy.”