WASHINGTON, DC: Mattel, the toymaker, has announced plans to launch an intelligent nursery assistant that can listen to and watch over babies, record sleep patterns, and play lullabies, igniting privacy concerns among legislators on both sides of the aisle.
The device, similar to Amazon Echo and Google Home, enters murky waters with allegations that it will violate the privacy of children.
“The kid tech industry sees kids’ bedroom as an economic bonanza," Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy think-tank, told Bloomberg.
“They can get all kinds of profile information – the kid likes to eat this kind of food, the kid likes to listen to this kind of music – and we’ll have this kind of information that we can share with partners and advertisers.”
Having announced the Aristotle device in January, much of the coverage surfaced the technology’s possible privacy violations, noting a previous investigation into another Mattel device, a Wi-Fi connected Barbie doll, which, it was discovered, could very easily be hacked.
Aside from the visual and audio elements, the device can help buy diapers, encourage good manners in children (by requiring the word ‘please’ in voice commands) and, allegedly, help teach children a foreign language.
Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told Bloomberg that connected toys and voluntary waivers of personal privacy are part of a wider trend towards voice control.
“Alexa and Echo have prepared us to say this is OK – to see something that’s actually quite shocking as OK,” Turkle said, adding that the lullaby capability is “exactly the wrong thing for a computer to be doing” as it removes the essential human comfort.
Following the recruitment of a former Googler as CEO, the company has begun investing in internet-connected devices, and shifting the 72-year-old company away from traditional toys. Though the device raises privacy concerns, Chester explained that the law doesn’t apply to children once parents give consent.
That may yet change as lawmakers have expressed concerns. “It appears that never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child,” Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) wrote in a letter to the company asking for details on how the device will gather and store information.
“Consumers should know how this product will work, and what measures Mattel will take to protect families’ privacy and secure their data,” they continued.
Sourced from Bloomberg, Verge, Guardian; additional content by WARC staff