Mattel’s recalled ‘Alexa’ kids hub is just the start of the nightmare

By Kitty Knowles 6 October 2017

Not all 'parent tech' will help you sleep at night.

Of course anxious parents will buy kit that promises to protect their beloved baby.

But despite our obsession with tech, Mattel today shows that big companies will still cross the line.

The American toy manufacturer has been forced to scrap its Alexa-like ‘Aristotle’ device due to privacy fears and poor reviews.

It’s not the first ‘parent tech’ that’s failed the basics, and you can bet on your baby stroller, it won’t be the last.

Abandoning Aristotle

Aristotle first hit the headlines after being unveiled at CES this spring. The smart home kids hub is designed to watch over your child, using a voice-controlled WiFi camera.

Doting parents could use it to create the perfectly lit atmosphere, and if their baby were to wake, have it play a soothing lullaby or flick on the night light.

Like Amazon’s Alexa, Mattel claimed that Aristotle could also hear and answer questions, play games, sing songs – even teach the ABC.

Needless to say, neither lawmakers, nor the wider parenting community were pleased.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood garnered 20,000 signatures on their petition voicing concern over “essential caregiving functions” being handed over to machines.

And two members of Congress also wrote to Mattel to raise their concerns. “Never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child,” wrote Joe Barton and Ed Markey in the letter.

“Consumers should know how this product will work and what measures Mattel will take to protect families’ privacy and secure their data.”

In response, the company pulled the plug on its device, saying Aristotle did not “fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.”

Just the beginning

If you’d like to believe this was a one-off, you’d sadly be wrong. There have been a number of horrifying reports of wifi-powered baby monitors being hacked.

And as The Memo‘s Associate Editor (and new mum) Molly Flatt says: “There are real dangers lurking behind the latest generation of baby gadgets.”

In addition to data concerns, an over reliance on wifi means that parents may risk missing a baby’s cry for help, she writes, instead recommending the more basic BT Audio Baby Monitor 450.

The UK’s first Parent Tech community is doing great work supporting new businesses trying to meet the demands of the 8 million families spending £160 billion annually on kiddie kit.

But with with the smart device market for children booming across the globe, you can expect further recalls ahead.

Read more: 

Beware the terrors of baby tech