Georgetown’s IPR Communications & Technology Clinic had a significant accomplishment last week, when Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (TX-06) sent an oversight letter to toy company Mattel raising privacy concerns about its “Aristotle” smart baby monitor, which was scheduled to hit stores in 2018. Subsequent to receiving the letter, Mattel announced that it will no longer be taking the Aristotle device to market.
“Aristotle” is a Wi-Fi enabled talking device with audio and visual monitoring that was marketed for use in a child’s bedroom from birth until adolescence. Mattel publicized this AI-driven connected home platform as being designed to “comfort, entertain, teach and assist during each development stage,” by, for example, tracking sleep and feeding patterns when the child is an infant and answering user questions as the child grows older.
On behalf of IPR Clinic clients Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy, clinic student Jack O’Gorman (L’17) conducted initial research into the Aristotle device and potential privacy concerns, sharing that information with the Congressmen’s offices. His research analyzed the device’s functionality and reviewed Mattel’s privacy policies regarding the collection and use of information, identifying a number of areas where information was unavailable about the device or its functionality.
In the letter, the Congressmen raised privacy concerns and posed a series of questions to Mattel about the device. Among other requests, the Congressmen sought information as to how the toy company would obtain parental consent, how information would be collected, stored and safeguarded, the technologies the device would utilize for monitoring, and how the device would comply with existing laws. A coalition of non-profit groups organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Story of Stuff Project also organized a petition urging Mattel not to release the product.
This week, Mattel announced that it will not move forward with its plans to release the device for sale. In a statement reported in The Washington Post, Mattel said the product did not “fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.” The move was welcomed by Georgetown’s IPR clinic and other privacy advocates. “We commend Mattel for putting children’s wellbeing first and listening to the concerns of child development experts and thousands of parents who urged them not to release this device,” said Josh Golin, executive director for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “This is a tremendous victory for everyone who believes children still have a right to privacy and that robots can never replace loving humans as caregivers.”
Georgetown’s IPR Communications & Technology Clinic is a full-time clinic in which Georgetown Law students represent non-profit organizational clients to ensure that communications technologies are used in ways that serve the interests of the public. You can learn more about the clinic here.