Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

SNS and Children's Privacy

-- By JeanLee - 02 Mar 2013

The Exposed Generation

There were many reports in and around 2005 about concerns of social networking services (SNSs) such as MySpace putting children and teenagers in danger. Naive children were posting their real information online without the knowledge that such information may be abused and used against them in real crimes.

As chilling as those reports were, the use of the SNS continues to expand and nowadays, Facebook is reported to have one billion active reporters as of late 2012. The Europe Commission requested that the SNS providers should police children profiles in order to protect children from being victimized. However, the real abuse of the younger generation via SNS starts from a much younger age, even before the children can hold a mouse, or even sit up.

It is not unusual to see proud parents sharing the news of pregnancy and birth of their beloved children on Facebook. Through numerous posts and pictures, I am updated with all the major milestones a friend's (or even stranger's) baby accomplishes, and am informed of the baby or toddler's physical, psychological developments or challenges, their nature and characteristics, their schedules and hobbies and so on. This information, linked together with the parent's socio economic status, political views and philosophies (which are many times posted as well), provides a blueprint where the baby will stand socially or economically in the upcoming years.

Being commercially and politically nudged one way or the other by use of information I am responsible for scattering around is bad enough, but the risks for the upcoming generation is worse. By the time these children become socially or economically active, companies and the government will already be equipped to deal and manipulate them in so many ways. Abundant information that tracks individuals down to the minute they were born will already be available, some information the person may not even know about herself.

I suspect with the ever evolving data mining and utilizing techniques, by the time this generation that was exposed upon birth enters stage, companies will no longer be targeting consumers, they will be cultivating consumers. Companies and governments will be in a better position to shape the world in the eyes of this generation and foster consumers and citizens that match their agenda.

Protection of Children's Online Privacy

The current legislation concerning children's online privacy is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 6501-6508). According to the Federal Trade Commission, which has the authority to issue regulations and enforce COPPA, the primary goal of COPPA is to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children online. Among others, the COPPA and its rules require parent consent and control of the collection of private information regarding children under 13.

COPPA may have functioned as an initial obstacle to collecting information regarding children, and invoked some awareness of the importance of protecting the privacy of our children. However, the effectiveness of such regulation is questionable. Facebook has announced that it is preparing to expand its service to include children under 13, mostly due to popular demand not only of the children but also many parents. Considering the irresponsible use of such services by the parents themselves, it is doubtful that their children will be properly shielded. In any case, in the near future we may be seeing even more accounts tracking even younger public.

Redefining SNS

As seen with COPPA, legislation is not always the most effective way to promote desirable actions or omissions. For a more fundamental change, it seems that there is a need to stop confusing SNS with a private social community. Maybe this will be clearer if the "social networking service" was renamed or at least conceived by the general public as something closer to a "micro publishing service." Despite the privacy settings (that really do not work), users should be reminded that their posts are made available not only to "friends," but potentially to the general public, and that potential dissemination is much far reaching than may be expected. The government and other commercial businesses also monitor the posts and any and all of the contents may be used for or against the writer.

With a more accurate understanding or definition of what kind of services (that is, publishing services) are provided and are being used despite the name SNS, people may be able to start using these services in a more appropriate way - using a publishing service as a publishing service, and not as a personal diary.

Protecting Free Conscience

In a broader perspective, however, the ‘Exposed Generation’ is not solely the result of the use or abuse of SNSs, it is an inevitable evolution brought about as the net becomes more intertwined and inseparable with our everyday lives. For the next generation, the exposure and mass collection of personal information will not be optional or controllable - it would be an environment that one is born into.

Maintaining a free conscience may become more and more difficult in the new environment. Psychological ‘nudging’ has been happening in many was in modern society, but such manipulation will become increasingly tailored to the personal level making it harder to resist or even recognize.

It will be necessary for us and our future generations to protect our own free consciences, which is core to human value, by keeping a clear awareness of the collection and use of explicit and implicit data. We will need to find ways to use such collective data to benefit ourselves and not only the commercial businesses and the government. It will also be important to find ways to resist reinforcement or manipulation of our behavior when necessary. More than ever, continuing efforts will need to be made in order to secure our ability to make independent decisions about our actions and lives, free from any type of implicit or unconscious coercion.

You are thinking of babies as people in pictures. What is happening is that the behavior of those people is being shaped by the net from the beginning of life. That's what will happen to all people after the next generation, forever: human brains, human minds, human personalities will be formed in direct relation to the Net. The machines will train us.

You're talking about this as though it could be prevented from happening. This is not bad or good: this is the Fourth Era in the history of humankind, and you happened to be alive in the period of transition. Figuring out what is happening would be enough, without trying to tell people they can somehow prevent it, which they can't.

Of course one doesn't have to use social networking services. I don't. But they're not just micropublishing operations. They are publishing operations that spy on the readership: they know who reads your content better than you do. My website, on the other hand, is on my server, where I have the access logs.

The importance of the collection of social data is its aggregation. Big Data about people finds patterns that make the interpretation of our personal data possible in ways we could not interpret it for ourselves: aggregate data shows people who see us things we cannot see about ourselves. The unconscious, which we discovered at the end of the 19th century and pursued by introspection in the 20th, is about to become the uniform we wear on our outside.

So maybe there are some other ideas about how all this will work in the lives of those children that you could take aboard to make your analysis richer.


Webs Webs

r4 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:44:39 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM