Toy manufacturer Mattel has decided to scrap the release of Aristotle – its AI-powered "digital nanny" technology – following a widespread backlash over privacy.
In January 2017, Mattel's Nabi division unveiled the "connected kid's room platform", which was designed as an Alexa-style hub that could serve as an "all-in-one nursery" and learning device. It had a baby camera, night light, changing light, white noise machine and lullaby speaker.
"Raising kids can be hectic and we saw a need for an IoT system that simplifies the complex and dynamic lives of families," Jim Mitchell, manager of Nabi, said at the time.
That has now changed.
According to The Washington Post, Sven Gerjets, Mattel's new chief technology officer (CTO), decided "not to bring Aristotle to the marketplace as part of an ongoing effort to deliver the best possible connected product experience to the consumer".
Makers of the device claimed it used strong encryption while transmitting user information, but campaigners argued that was not enough.
One petition organised by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, dubbed "Stop Mattel's Aristotle from trading children's privacy for profit", gained more than 1,500 signatures.
It read: "Young children shouldn't be encouraged to form bonds and friendships with data-collecting devices.
"Aristotle will make sensitive information about children available to countless third parties, leaving kids and families vulnerable to marketers, hackers, and other malicious actors.
"Young children should not be guinea pigs for AI experiments. Please put the well-being of children first and end the production of Aristotle."
The device was also criticised by two US senators – Edward J. Markey and Joe Barton – who recently sent the company a letter asking for it to elaborate on its data retention policies.
"This new product has the potential to raise serious privacy concerns," they wrote.
"Mattel can build an in-depth profile of children and their family. It appears that never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child."
Internet of Things (IoT) devices are often rushed to market and as a result have become known for having weak cybersecurity protections. In many cases, they have been open to hackers.
Paediatrician, author and academic Jennifer Radesky told The Washington Post that one of the biggest concerns would be that "a piece of technology becomes the most responsive household member to a crying child, a child who wants to learn, or a child's play ideas".
Josh Golin, director for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said: "We commend Mattel for putting children's well-being first and listening to the concerns of child development experts and thousands of parents who urged them not to release this device.
"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."