We are watching with great anticipation the unfolding events taking place in the UK regarding the ever growing challenge of protecting children online led by UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron.
My friend and Internet safety comrade, John Carr is involved in the UK effort and has allowed me to share with you his November 18th blog which gives a terrific summary of the big things happening in the UK.
For the Sake of the Children,
Donna Rice Hughes
by John Carr, Secretary, Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety
Here in the UK it has been a busy week and a good week for child safety on the internet. Later today the Prime Minister is holding an industry summit in Downing Street to review progress on the calls he made in his landmark speech on 22nd July, 2013. We have already had a glimpse of what’s in store
On Saturday we saw announcements reconfirming the intention of the UK’s biggest ISPs to require every domestic account holder to decide how or indeed whether they want to use filters to restrict access to online adult content in their home.
The filters will be provided to customers at no extra cost. They will work at the level of the household’s WiFi router or higher up on the network itself. This means every device that connects to the internet through the common access point will be governed by these choices. For families with maybe twenty or more different smartphones, tablets, games consoles, laptops or what have you this is going to simplify things hugely.
For new customers these arrangements will be in place by the end of the year. Existing customers will be put in a similar position by the end of next year. It’s not practical to move everyone over at once.
On by default
During the sign up process if a new customer simply clicks yes, next, yes, next, yes the filters will be turned on by default. They will cover a broad range of categories, not just pornography. In theory the account holder – who will have been verified as being over 18 – will make the decisions about whether or not to use the proffered filters. At the end of the set-up, or following any subsequent changes, an email will be despatched to that person’s given address summarising the choices or alterations that were made. The point to note, though, is once the decision on filters has been taken it will apply in the same way to everyone. 5 year old Jenny gets the same access as 17 year old Johnnie and Granddad.
Major public awareness campaign – reaching the “unlulled”
A £25 million public awareness campaign funded by the ISPs aims to make sure everyone understands what the filters will do as well as what their limitations are.
Nobody wants parents to be lulled into a false sense security about the effectiveness of filtering. However, we have been living with a generation of “unlulled” parents pretty much since the internet began and it hasn’t worked out too well in many families. ISPs are now going to have a go at it the other way around. We call this innovation. It’s one of the things for which the internet is said to be famous.
Historically the choice was presented rather starkly: do you try to reach out to explain how filters can help kids stay safer before or after they have been allowed to venture into cyberspace? In my book they are not alternatives. You do both but absent a positive contra-indication you apply the filters at the kick off. Parents should not have to jump through hoops to make the internet safer for their kids. Any hoop-jumping should go in the opposite direction.
Mobile phones have been doing this since 2005
The mobile phone networks have been doing something similar since 2005. The key difference is that whereas the ISPs’ offering assumes it is the age-verified adult account holder making the decisions about filters in the home the mobile networks require real time proof of age at the exact point where the decision is taken. Until that proof is received the filters are applied to every phone, or rather to every SIM card because it is the phone number that constitutes the account.
Of course a household account used by many is not the same as a mobile phone number used by one person but the parallels are there. In the long run I think all ISPs in the home market will end up closer to the position which currently exists with mobile phones.
At work and at school we are all used to having our own log ins with appropriate access rights linked to our accounts. The proliferation of individually owned portable devices plays into the same space. Eventually I think we will all have unique age-verified log ins that we will carry with us across platforms and devices. Every account will therefore be configured in an age appropriate way according to the needs or interests of each family member.
Having said that there is no question that what the ISPs are proposing to do now is an important step forward. We’ll see how it works out. Maybe we won’t need to go in the direction I am suggesting is inevitable. I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.
Public WiFi providers are joining in
Britain’s largest WiFi providers are also joining in on the drive for a safer and better internet for children. Family Friendly WiFi is coming down the tracks. In many places it is already here.
At the time of writing the detail of the final package on WiFi is not completely tied down so check against delivery with what the Prime Minister actually says on the subject. The overall commitment, however, is now clear and irrevocable.
In public spaces where children and young people are likely to be found on a regular basis urls containing child abuse images (drawn from the IWF list) and legal porn will not be accessible. Other categories of adult content will be blocked by some WiFi providers but it is not clear if all of them will do that. I expect in time a consistent and common standard will emerge although there is no doubt that restricting access to porn is number one on most parents’ list.
A new logo will promote awareness of Family Friendly WiFi facilities in retail outlets, coffee bars, on buses and trains, in parks and so on. I imagine major retail chains, municipalities and other big brands will be quick to ensure they are offering a Family Friendly service. The value of a distinctive logo is that it will encourage smaller enterprises to join in.
A very large experiment
The internet is still relatively new. One way of thinking about the collection of measures outlined above is as one very large experiment. Through it we should all learn a lot, for example about how effective filters are as aids to good parenting in the digital age. The world will be watching. The only alternative model people could point to up to now for anything like this came out of Australia but there the politicians messed it up so comprehensively it should stand as a text book example of how not to do it.
Now the really radical stuff
Some of the most dramatic new steps to make the internet safer and better for children are being taken by Google and Bing.
The core point is Google and Bing are adjusting their search engines to make it harder for paedophiles or individuals looking for child abuse images to do their worst.
Blocking retained and extended
Google and Bing already block access to urls known to contain child abuse images. The urls are drawn from the IWF’s and similar lists. This will continue.
In relation to detecting actual images, as opposed to urls, Microsoft’s image fingerprinting technology, PhotoDNA, has held centre stage for many years. They give it away so really any internet-based business providing free or paid for online storage facilities should deploy it or something similar. Those that don’t are, in effect, saying they don’t care what people do on their systems or put on their machines. They are turning a blind eye.
A video version of PhotoDNA
Google has also announced a new type of fingerprinting technology – essentially a video version of PhotoDNA – so that known child abuse videos can be detected and removed at scale. The new programme is currently being tested on YouTube but will soon be made available to the entire industry. As paedophiles increasingly move from still images to video this is a most welcome development.
Action on Peer2Peer
Progress has also been made around Peer2Peer networks. A pilot project has been announced which will allow for the blocking of torrent urls that initiate sharing illegal child abuse images. Google and Bing will be working a lot more closely with the police, helping to construct new and larger databases of known illegal images, making them easier to detect and remove. Progress in this area is essential as without a doubt it is in the realm of Peer2Peer networks that the largest growth in the distribution of child abuse images has taken place.
Paedophilic searching gets harder
If a person types in a known paedophile term or something that suggests they are looking for child abuse images a clear warning message will now be displayed from Google, Bing and child safety organisations telling the searcher they may be on edge of breaking the law and this could have severe consequences for them. It will also point towards sources of advice and help if they seriously want to break with their criminal and abusive behaviour.
These messages may not deflect determined or already committed child sex offenders but there is little doubt they will cause some to stop and think. If that means fewer children are abused it has to be worth giving it a shot.
Bing and Google will be collaborating with the police and other agencies to ensure they stay as up to date as possible in relation to how the paedophile community and image collectors are trying to use the internet for their evil ends to make sure they can’t.
While it is obvious why one might want to block access to known illegal content or sources known to supply illegal images, when it comes to words describing illegal or unsavoury acts it is a different matter. Very few countries have laws which make words illegal, however revoltingly they are used.
However, the search engines are now relegating the possibly legal but unsavoury content, that was previously being returned on some child abuse related queries, to the cyber equivalent of Siberia and replacing it with positive content.
To give a hypothetical example if someone was looking for information about child rape they will be helped to find articles in the academic press or to locate sources of help for victims. The stuff paedophiles have been publishing will be on the outer edges offindability. In this way neither search engine can be accused of censoring the internet or of refusing to provide access to otherwise legal if distasteful material but they have gone a long way in that direction. Again we will see how this is going to work out in practice.
Pulling out the stops
Google and Microsoft have really pulled out the stops. This is a very impressive initiative. It is narrowing the spaces in which paedophiles and collectors of child abuse images can operate. The challenge now is to work out how to gauge the effectiveness of and learn from the various measures that are being put in place but I am sure there is a will so we can find a way.
The beginning of a new phase
This is unlikely to be the end of the story but there is no question we have reached an important milestone. There are still anxieties about the Darknet and the true extent to which it and the use of encryption may continue to frustrate law enforcement’s and everybody’s efforts. But we don’t always have to do the really hard stuff first. Dealing with the more open parts of the internet has to be a key priority precisely because it is so accessible and therefore has the greater potential to draw in new offenders.
All the companies involved deserve a great deal of credit for their willingness to sail into these uncharted waters and so does Claire Perry MP and the Government as a whole for sticking with the issue in the way that they have. I await with interest to see how what is happening in the UK starts to roll out or impact other jurisdictions.
Friend and former staffer with Enough Is Enough, Cris Clapp Logan, had a thought-provoking blog about learning when to trust your kids.
Far too often, the parents that I talk with are worried about upsetting their kids and invading their privacy, but it’s up to you as their parents to do everything in your power to protect them-from dangers inside the home, outside the home and those they can access in the palm of their hand. This doesn’t mean you should always suspect the worst or act like the secret police around your children, but it does mean watching out for warning signs, teachable moments, using parental controls and digging a little deeper in conversation when appropriate.
To continue reading Cris’ full article on how to build a more trustworthy relationship with your kids please click here.
In my last article we discussed all the ways that our kids have segmented themselves from the family and yes, even their friends. Texting and “group texting” – where kids get on their phones and talk in a huge text-efficient conference room – are great ways to not only say and offer up one line responses to things they’d never ever say in person, but ruin their reputation in the process. There’s nothing worse than leaving a line of text out there you can’t get back.
To better arm parents with some ways to get control once again in the household, I’m offering the following tips. Of course every child is different and I’m not recommending you use all of these, but I’m sure you’ll find something here you can apply.
1) Charging Stations
Whether it be a tablet or phone, make sure your child doesn’t assume that charging the device is better done in their room at night when they go to bed. If you want to see bleary eyed kids come downstairs for breakfast in the morning, let them take their communications to the bedroom. There are two obvious reasons not to allow this. The first, is just the practical side that if you’re viewing the internet and chatting with your friends at all hours of the night (and they will, if they take it to bed), they will suffer in school. The second is that late at night, people (adults too) with their defenses down, tend to do some irreperable harm when talking while tired. Simple solution – make them charge it in the kitchen or living room.
2) Check their Apps
Once thing the various app stores don’t really monitor is age appropriate and negative consequence tools that can be downloaded on your phone or tablet. There are plenty of apps that are inappropriate for your child. One to particularly look for is SnapChat. It’s one of those apps that looks harmless from the outside, but when you realize that it’s wholly designed to share photos and immediately erase them from view – you have to ask the question – “what’s the purpose of this?” The answer? Nothing good. I told my son it’s like MTV. If I ask you what you’re watching and you say “some show on MTV” I’m going to tell you to change the channel. It doesn’t matter what show. Why? Because I know that nothing socially redeeming has EVER been produced by MTV. That’s not their purpose. Neither is that the purpose of SnapChat. If you find it on your son’s or daughter’s phone, delete it or like me, tell them if you see it appear again they’ll lose their phone.
One solution that will take the day to day burden off of parents is to use Norton’s great new line of mobile family safety filters and tools which you can find here.
While this column mainly skirts the issues of safety and oversight for parents – the Enough is Enough Internet Safety 101 site has a great full-bodied checklist of many of the tools and procedures you can use as a parent. You can find that list here.
3) Set an Example
When we’re sitting in the living room at night as a family, I can’t possibly tell my child to stop ignoring the family by texting all night, if we’re doing the same thing. I look around the room some evenings and it’s amazing how we can all be in the same room but virtually somewhere else. I found that I was just as bad as my kids. When I took my phone and/or tablet to the other room and left it there – that gave me license to tell my kids to do the same. By the way, the same goes for texting and driving and that’s another topic for another day.
One of the best way to set an example for the whole family is to employ an open dialogue of your expectations. You certainly can’t get your family to abide by rules that are “assumed” but not stated. We parents are very good at expecting our children to abide by standards we rarely exhibit or express ourselves.
4) Get their Passwords
If I’m paying for the phone and/or the phone service (don’t let them get away with saying it’s their phone because they bought the device but don’t pay the monthly bill) then it’s my right to occasionally check out what’s going on with the phone. To do this I need their password and my kids know that they have to give it to me to use one. It’s amazing what you can learn about your kids and more importantly their friends, when you check out the texting history. I’m not saying you do it every night, but do it every once in a while and find a way to talk to them about their behavior (or their friend’s) without specifically going line by line through the phone. If anything, it’s a good way to determine how deep they are into bad conversations and whether they are leading or being led by a stream of inappropriate talk. If, by the way, your child is not involved in anything untoward, it will also help you sleep better.
Mark Gilman is a married father of five, from 29-12 and a member of the Enough Is Enough Advisory Council. He also owns a marketing and communications company based in the Detroit area (www.decusstrategy.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is my pleasure to welcome Frederick Lane to the EIE Blog. Fred is an author, attorney educational consultant, expert witness, and lecturer who has appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He has written seven books, including most recently “Cybertraps for the Young” (NTI Uppstream, 2011). All of his books are available on amazon.com or through his website. Fred has been our guest blogger on the EIE blog sharing excerpts from his book “Cybertraps for the Young.”
A decade into the 21st century, it’s impossible to overestimate just how important computer
skills will be to our children and grandchildren throughout their lifetimes. Consider the fact
that people born when the first personal computer was released in 1978 are already in their
early 30s, many with children of their own. Computers are an integral part of our education,
our work, and our leisure, so much so that the research firm NPD Group estimates that 97
percent of American households own a computer—a level of ownership that rivals
televisions and stereos.
The importance of personal computers was underscored for me when, while writing this
book, I spent a day in the reading room of the Widener Library at Harvard University. The
long wooden tables were filled with undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers, and
nearly all of them had laptop computers open on the table in front of them. Assuming an
average value of $1,000 per computer (the numerous Macs in the room bumped up the
average a bit), those library tables were covered with at least $100,000 in portable computing
equipment. As a society, we’ve invested a staggering amount of money in hardware and
software, and it would be unrealistic to think that kids can succeed in school and in the
workplace without at least some familiarity with and exposure to this technology.
For parents, however, there’s a tension between the obvious benefits of computer
ownership—homework, research, entertainment, socialization—and the distractions and
dangers that come with it. Thanks to the development of the World Wide Web in the mid-
1990s, every computer is now a portal to an infinite array of information, entertainment, and
enticements, not all of which are salutary.
As we’ll see throughout this book, many kids need nothing more than a keyboard and an
Internet connection to get themselves into a world of electronic trouble. Computer hacking,
for instance, has a long, albeit disreputable history, and enterprising teens have often been at
the forefront of the mischief. But even less computer-savvy teens now have at their
fingertips all the tools they need to violate a host of laws. With any type of Internetconnected
device—laptop, mobile phone, gaming console—children can harass or bully
other children, libel their teachers, commit fraud on eBay, violate U.S. copyright laws, or
commit a felony by downloading or distributing obscene materials. Given the prevalence of
computer web cams—either clip-ons for desktops or pre-installed in laptops—kids have the
ability to broadcast themselves and others from the privacy of their bedrooms to a global
audience, and that behavior has the potential to violate any number of federal and state laws.
We don’t normally think of desktop or laptop computers as phones, but thanks to web cams
and online conferencing software like Skype, they certainly can be used that way. Actually,
the line between computers and handheld devices is blurring in both directions. Kids can use
computers like phones (albeit bulky ones) through the use of software like Skype and
Google Talk, while mobile smartphones allow them to perform a number of computing
functions—e-mail, Web browsing, photo sharing—on the go.
In fact, it is only a matter of time before such handheld devices match traditional computers
in both power and convenience. A vision of that future could be seen in April 2010, when
Apple announced the release of its tablet computer, the iPad. There have been numerous
previous attempts at creating and marketing a tablet computer, but with its inimitable
attention to detail, design aesthetic, and sheer coolness, Apple succeeded where so many
others have failed. During the 2010 holiday season, online retailers and tech journalists
reported that the iPad was squarely at the top of the teen wish list, despite its impressive
Right now, the iPad is an imperfect bridge between laptops and the iPhone. Out of the box,
it lacks a physical keyboard, has no camera, and has relatively limited onboard storage. Both
Apple and various third-party vendors, however, sell keyboards that dock onto the iPad;
future versions of the iPad are likely to include both a rear- and front-facing camera (for
“Face Time” chat, among other uses), along with more memory and faster processors.
The iPad’s enormous success—more than 25 million sold in fiscal year 2010, with another
32 million projected for FY 2011—has attracted numerous competitors, including the
Samsung Galaxy Tab, the HP Slate 500, the Dell Streak, and the Motorola Xoom. How
those tablets will fare in the marketplace remains to be seen, particularly with Apple’s iPad 2
waiting in the wings, but one thing is clear: computing’s own Olympic motto—smaller,
faster, cheaper—will continue to drive developments in the tech world.
With relatively few exceptions, these new electronic devices and the ones that inevitably
follow will offer more options, more capabilities, and more ways for kids to get into trouble.
And kids will continue to love them. This book aims to level the playing field a bit, to give
parents and teachers a solid introduction to the ways in which kids can accidentally or
intentionally misuse electronic gadgets. I’ll begin with a general overview of the
communication revolution, describe the potentially life-altering cybertraps that can snare
kids, and then offer some suggestions on how to protect your child.
It is my pleasure to welcome Frederick Lane to the EIE Blog. Fred is an author, attorney educational consultant, expert witness, and lecturer who has appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He has written seven books, including most recently “Cybertraps for the Young” (NTI Uppstream, 2011). All of his books are available on amazon.com or through his website. Fred will be joining us for the next 2 weeks as a guest blogger on the EIE blog sharing excerpts from his book “Cybertraps for the Young.”
Many industries have legitimate reasons to bemoan the rise of digital technology, and photo
processors are near the front of that line. Not so long ago, it seemed as if every shopping
mall was equipped with a drive-up Fotomat kiosk offering one-day film processing. But
Fotomat didn’t survive the rise of one-hour developers in malls and box stores; in turn,
those one-hour shops have largely been replaced by drug-store kiosks—or even inexpensive
home printers—that can produce prints directly from CDs, USB sticks, or memory chips.
The culprit for all this retail change is the digital camera, a device that first became
commercially available only about twenty years ago. As prices have steadily fallen into the
low double digits, digital cameras have become ubiquitous—106 million were shipped in
2009 alone, and that figure was actually down about 12 percent from the 119 million units
sold the previous year (a drop attributed in large part to the growing popularity of mobile
phones equipped with cameras). The attractions of digital cameras are obvious: the ability to
see photos as soon as they’re taken, limited costs for film development, and software that
makes it easy to save images to a computer, digitally manipulate them, and instantly
distribute them via e-mail, a blog, a website, or a social network.
As the Amazon.com catalog illustrates, digital cameras are often the first electronic devices
to be put into small hands. There are a number of benefits to doing so: photography can be
a terrifically rewarding hobby, and, by eliminating the costs of film and film processing,
digital cameras have helped thousands of children discover a new artistic medium, a new way
of looking at the world around them. It’s the very simplicity and ease of digital cameras,
however, that have turned them into increasingly insidious cybertraps. To paraphrase the old
saying: just because a photograph can be taken doesn’t mean it should be taken.
As kids get older and start exploring their sexuality, they all too often employ digital cameras
or mobile-phone cameras as part of that exploration. Few fully understand, however, that
taking nude or semi-nude photographs or video of someone under the age of eighteen (even
a self-portrait) can have serious, even life-altering, consequences. As I’ll discuss in more
detail in Chapter 11, children who have circulated these types of photographs have been
subjected to cyberharassment and cyberbullying laws, have been suspended and/or expelled
from school, have been prosecuted under state and federal law for producing and
distributing child pornography, and, in a few extreme cases, have committed suicide.
To make matters worse, digital cameras are steadily shrinking in size, making it dangerously
easy to take photos or video of someone without their knowledge or consent. In fact, there
are entire websites devoted to illicit candids conspicuously labeled as “upskirt” or
Even if the subject of a photo is aware he or she is being photographed, the speed and
simplicity of digital technology reduces inhibitions and makes it less likely that either the
photographer or the subject will consider issues like privacy or propriety. And the younger
the kids on either side of the camera, the less likely it is they’ll think about the long-term
consequences of what they’re doing. After all, there’s no longer any risk for your child that
he or she will feel embarrassed when you pick up that packet of racy photos at the
developer; there’s the illusion that what’s taken with the camera will stay in the camera.
But that sense of privacy truly is an illusion. The whole point of a digital camera, after all, is
that the images can easily be transferred to a computer, thus freeing them for distribution to
the rest of the world. More recent digital cameras skip the transfer process altogether—
they’re equipped with wireless transmitters that allow photographs to be sent directly to email
or social networking sites. In fact, there’s even a memory card, the Eye-Fi, that will
enable older digital cameras to transmit photos wirelessly. Not to mention that any
smartphone equipped with a camera (and most are) is specifically designed to transmit
photos in a variety of ways—as e-mail attachments, as MMS messages, or as direct uploads
to any of hundreds of websites and social networking services.
It is my pleasure to welcome Frederick Lane to the EIE Blog. Fred is an author, attorney educational consultant, expert witness, and lecturer who has appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He has written seven books, including most recently “Cybertraps for the Young” (NTI Uppstream, 2011). All of his books are available on amazon.com or through his website. Fred will be joining us for the next 3 weeks as a guest blogger on the EIE blog sharing excerpts from his book “Cybertraps for the Young.”
It would be difficult to imagine someone less likely to be a video game fan than my
grandfather, a serious and well-respected real estate lawyer who spent more than fifty years
at the forefront of his legal specialty. I remember debating him when I was in law school
about the merits of computer-aided legal research, a development he disdained. But even
Grum could feel the lure of electronic gadgetry: in 1975, he was one of the early purchasers
of Pong, Atari Inc.’s groundbreaking video paddle game. I was ecstatic: I’d never seen
anything like it, and happily spent hours playing the game on my uncle’s ancient, black-andwhite
Regardless of how long I played Pong, my parents had little reason to worry about what I
was doing—the Pong console played Pong and only Pong. But video game consoles have
gone through a few changes since then. Today, the capabilities of those consoles rival or
exceed the capabilities of most desktop and laptop computers (in fact, law enforcement
agencies use the latest game consoles to help crack passwords). Recent models have
incorporated Blu-Ray disc players, motion-sensing and wireless controllers, and high-end
video processors for increasingly lifelike and immersive game-playing experiences (which
helps explain why 10 percent of teens log more than twenty hours a week playing video
In part because of those new features, the devices are incredibly popular with children (and,
no doubt, with their parents as well). In early 2010, the Pew Internet and American Life
Project reported that 81 percent of children between the ages of twelve and seventeen own
at least one gaming console, while 51 percent own a portable gaming device—a figure that’s
almost certainly risen over the past year, thanks to the popularity of game-capable devices
like the iPhone and other late-generation smartphones. The combined sale of video game
software and hardware generates over $20 billion per year in the United States alone.
The most significant development, however, is the growing connectivity of these gaming
devices. All three major consoles—Sony Corporation’s PlayStation 3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360,
and the Nintendo Co., Ltd.’s Wii—are designed to connect directly to the Internet. Gaming
companies added connectivity to video consoles to encourage gamers to buy new games
online and to compete with opponents playing the same games around the world. Most
contemporary games also have built-in messaging capability, so gamers can communicate
with each other in real time.
Keep in mind that the same connectivity, combined with the rapidly expanding features of
gaming console software, allows gamers to do everything online that they have traditionally
done using a computer—send e-mail, use Internet chat and instant-messaging services, surf
the Web, and send and view photographs. The potential dark side of gaming consoles was
unveiled last year, when a Kentucky man was arrested for using the communication
capabilities of his Sony Playstation 3 to strike up a relationship with an eleven-year-old girl
and solicit nude photos from her online.
Not long ago, a portable gaming device would have been a safer alternative—the only thing
handheld consoles were designed to do was play games. Like so many other types of
technology, however, recent models of handheld consoles—the Nintendo DS, the Sony
PlayStation Portable (PSP), and the Apple iPhone and iPad—are designed to connect to the
Internet for game downloads, interactive play, and messaging. In addition, both the
Nintendo DS and iPhone are equipped with built-in cameras.
It is my pleasure to welcome Frederick Lane to the EIE Blog. Fred is an author, attorney educational consultant, expert witness, and lecturer who has appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He has written seven books, including most recently “Cybertraps for the Young” (NTI Uppstream, 2011). All of his books are available on amazon.com or through his website. Fred will be joining us for the next 4 weeks as a guest blogger on the EIE blog sharing excerpts from his book “Cybertraps for the Young.”
In terms of capability and communications, no category of consumer device has changed as
dramatically as the mobile phone. First introduced in the United States in 1983, early
handheld phones were widely referred to as “bricks,” and did nothing more than allow
people to free themselves from fixed phone locations (though that seemed amazing enough
at the time). Around the turn of the twenty-first century, the development of faster cellular
networks (first 2G, then 3G) allowed for the transmission and downloading of multimedia
content. Ringtones were the first media content to be widely distributed, followed quickly by
games, photos, and eventually even streaming video.
The idea of the mobile phone as a connectivity tool began to creep into mainstream
consciousness in 2003, when Motorola Inc. released its hugely popular Razr phone in the
U.S. The sleek, slim, clamshell phone was equipped with a low-resolution camera, a 2.2-inch
LCD screen, and various communication options, including text messaging and a simple
Web browser that could be used to send e-mail. In many ways, it was the first device that
was as much a portable tool for surfing the Web as it was a phone (in fact, during the height
of the phone’s popularity, the Web browser Opera released a Razr-specific version of its
software, which offered more features than the phone’s own browser).
In the seven years since the Razr was released, the percentage of kids using mobile phones
has risen from twenty to approximately ninety-five. Part of that growth was the result of a
conscious effort on the part of mobile-phone companies, beginning in 2004, to target
advertisements at the teen market, a move that was obviously highly successful. Another
factor was Motorola’s success in making the mobile phone a fashion item—the Razr not
only looked cool, but came in a variety of attractive colors. But it was SMS messaging, or
“texting,” which did the most to bring teens and mobile phones together. More recent billing
data is still being analyzed, but between the first quarter of 2006 and the second quarter of
2008, the number of text messages sent in the U.S. skyrocketed from 65 million to 357
million. It’s not surprising, then, that in October 2010, 43 percent of teen mobile-phone
users reported that their primary reason for having a phone was to send texts to friends. The
SMS feature was the most frequently cited benefit of phone ownership, with “safety” and
“keeping in touch with friends” a distant second and third, respectively.
Games and Web surfing didn’t even make the list of top reasons for owning a mobile phone,
but it’s likely that will soon change. Apple Inc. ushered in the real era of handheld
computing and surfing with its release of the iPhone on January 9, 2007. What makes the
iPhone so remarkable—and so potentially troublesome for parents—is its seductive
combination of well-designed and powerful hardware, flexible software, and wireless
connectivity. It has been a tremendous hit.
In early 2008, Apple announced the creation of the iTunes Store, which allowed
programmers to sell their own applications (“apps”) for use on the iPhone. There are now
hundreds of thousands of apps for sale, and iPhone users have logged well over a billion
downloads in the three years since. Although Apple has aggressively policed the iTunes Store
to prevent the sale of obscene, indecent, and even politically provocative apps, there are still
hundreds, even thousands, of iPhone (or Android or Blackberry) applications that can land
kids in trouble. For instance, every major social network site—Facebook, MySpace, Twitter,
etc.—has its own app for posting photos or comments, and dozens of third-party apps offer
additional tools for interacting with those sites. There are also hundreds of apps—Pixelpipe,
Instagram, and so on—that are specifically designed to make it easier to take and upload
photos to social networking sites.
The enormous popularity of the iPhone has fueled a mobile computing arms race. Hardly a
month goes by without a new phone or mobile operating system hitting the streets. A year
after the iPhone debuted, for instance, a consortium of companies (including Google)
announced the release of Android, an open-source mobile operating system. Other
manufacturers, including Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM), Nokia Corporation, and Microsoft
Corporation, have announced the release of updated versions of their mobile operating
systems, along with their own platform-specific app stores. Not to be outdone, Apple has
released an upgraded version of its iPhone on a yearly basis; the most recent model, the
iPhone 4, allows users to conduct face-to-face video conversations using “FaceTime” (a
feature which the adult entertainment industry is already exploiting for pornographic
Right now, only 23 percent of U.S. teens have a smartphone such as an iPhone or Android,
but that percentage will no doubt climb quickly.
It is my pleasure to welcome Frederick Lane to the EIE Blog. Fred is an author, attorney educational consultant, expert witness, and lecturer who has appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He has written seven books, including most recently “Cybertraps for the Young” (NTI Uppstream, 2011). All of his books are available on amazon.com or through his website. Fred will be joining us for the next 5 weeks as a guest blogger on the EIE blog sharing excerpts from his book “Cybertraps for the Young.”
Cybertraps for the Young: Your Child LOVES Technology
There was a time, not so long ago, when computers hid in the bowels of universities and corporations; when it took a quarter and a trip to the local arcade to play a video game; when the only way to make a phone call outside your house was in a glass booth with an outdated phone book; when a photo-processing clerk would be the first person to lay eyes on your vacation pictures.
Things have changed a bit over the last twenty-five years or so. Now, each of these activities can be accomplished with a device small enough to fit in the palm of your hand—and, increasingly, all these tasks can all be accomplished with a single device.
Our children are growing up in a world that is awash in remarkable digital technology. Kids seem astonishingly well suited to this world, as they effortlessly navigate complicated menus, rapidly master new programs, and nimbly text, tilt, and click away. It’s no wonder that post- Web/Millennial children are often referred to as “digital natives,” implying (correctly) that the rest of us are just strangers in an increasingly strange land.
Statistics offer some insight into just how much kids like technology. According to a recent study by NPD Group, a market researcher of technology trends, 82 percent of kids between the ages of two and seventeen—55.7 million U.S. children—describe themselves as “video gamers.” That includes a surprising number of kids who may not even be able to read the survey questions. All told, 9.7 million children between the ages of two and five reportedly play video games.
The adoption of other technology by kids is just as enthusiastic—and just as startling. Nearly four years ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that roughly a quarter of all children between the ages of four and six were using personal computers at least fifty minutes a day. Amazon.com offers more than twenty-five digital cameras designed specifically for children aged two to four, and the average age for a child’s first mobile phone is now under ten.
On their own, these cool technologies pose few legal risks to children (although they may have other effects, such as increasing distractibility and decreasing exercise—topics for another book). The real problems arise with the three C’s of technology: communication, capability, and convergence. More and more often, we’re handing our children remarkably powerful devices long before they have the wisdom or maturity to understand the consequences of misusing them.
Children are using computers and mobile phones to bully and harass each other. They’re using the cameras on their phones to take nude photos of themselves and others, and to send those photos to dozens or hundreds of other children. They’re using a variety of electronic devices to cheat in school, steal intellectual property, and commit a wide variety of crimes, from identity theft to hacking.
In short, it has never been more important for parents to take the time to understand how every device works, to think through the consequences of giving these devices to their children— regardless of their age—and to talk with their kids about how to use their electronic gadgets responsibly.
Although Saturday Night Live is not necessarily the funniest show anymore (was it ever?), they do every once in a while come up a with gem that “hits home.” On last year’s show they unveiled a parody commercial which discussed a fictional filtering device that would mask actual posts and photos with ones suitable for your Mom. For instance, comments like, “Boy I need more beer,” would read “Boy, I need new dungarees” on your Mom’s computer. Well, I’m here to let you know that snooping on your kids’ Facebook page is “so 2012.”
Why? It’s because a lot of them aren’t there anymore. I learned this at home recently when “snooping” on my 14 year old’s Facebook page and found that he hadn’t updated it in months. No new pictures, no requests to go to the movies, no longings for some girl and no photos showing what happened at the birthday party we let him go to last week. I made it clear, he can’t have a Facebook account unless I have the password. And one day when checking out the “messages” section on his page, found a litany of communication with boys and girls alike that said “I don’t like talking here. Text me.”
If you look at the latest demographics you’ll find that Facebook users are getting older and older. There’s a few reasons for this. One – kids KNOW we’re looking and those looking for jobs also know their prospective employers are looking, so they’re going elsewhere. Also, they’re a lot smarter than most parents in being first adopters to the fact that Facebook privacy is a joke. For whatever reason, we haven’t learned this yet.
Which brings us to the texting situation. According to new research, 22 percent of kids ages 6 to 9 already have their own cell phone. For everyone older – well, no research needed. They have one. I don’t care if they live in a tin shack in San Salvador (I’ve seen this personally), they have one. And they text. Constantly. Our family nights are sprayed by the constant text clicking noises of my 14 AND 12 year old boys. They have found that there is much more privacy (and instant response) to texting friends. As for photos, they text those too, AND post them on Instagram, which ironically is now owned by Facebook. So what’s the problem?
Well, there’s the extreme issue of “sexting,” and sharing of inappropriate pictures. Then there’s the bold and sometimes sexual statements of a boy AND girl going through “the change” when the boy has one thing on his mind and some girls are willing to say (and do) lots of stupid things to hook him. They develop relationships built on fantasy and infatuation, which texting sends them into faster than a test dummy into a wall during an auto collision test. It’s dangerous, and as parents we need to be aware.
The other issue is the isolation it creates. My kids text in the living room, in their bedrooms, in the car, in the movie theatre line and yes, at school. The end result? “Lack of Attention Theatre,” which leads to a drop in grades, distracted relational activity with the family and a forced isolation that’s predicated on reaching out to people they rarely actually talk to in person.
I asked one of my sons recently why he didn’t just pick up the phone and talk to the friend he was texting and said “I hate talking on the phone. This is better.” Don’t believe me? Look at your child’s cell minutes used plummet on your bill while the amount of texts rise disproportionately. Go ahead.
Our response as parents must be simple. If you care about the family dynamic, make a couple of changes in the home. We’ve done it. In my next article I’ll share a list of ideas to implement in an effort to “bring the kids back home.”
Mark Gilman is a married father of five, ages 28-12 and a member of the Enough Is Enough Advisory Board. He also owns a marketing and communications company based in the Detroit area (www.decusstrategy.com). He can be reached at email@example.com.