opinion | If the internet were a toy, this is what it would look like. Would you let your child play with it?





[MUSIC PLAYING] “I do not know.” “How it works.” “There are, like, little invisible lines.” “And then it has a big cloud.” “Electricity is so small and goes to the iPad and watches YouTube. There you go.” We all understand that our job is to protect children from a world they are too young to understand. “Like how to be safe on the internet?” That’s why we put baby gates on stairs and buy special car seats and give them plastic scissors. But when it comes to the internet, we’ve let them down. “I’m sitting in my room looking at iPad and they say ‘No more iPad, no more phone’. And I’m like, ‘Five more minutes. Five more minutes.’” We left our children to be attacked by giant tech companies, as our politicians continue to struggle to understand how it all works.” Facebook understands that if they want to keep growing, they need to find new users. “By crocheting kids?” “By crocheting kids.” We’re going to get you show what your kids actually see online, not through empty speeches from politicians, but through the real images our children see while we eat out. This is a story of harm and consequences. Our children are being attacked. And it is something we would never allow in the real world.” “My dad, he has a record player like that and he puts big ones on this one.” “Top speed technology.” “Unlimited AOL free. It kinda sounds like LOL.” Remember this? “This is your personal information universe, the Internet.” This is what the Internet looked like in 1998, no YouTube, no Instagram, no Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg was a kid himself. It was also the year Congress passed. passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. COPPA forces websites to get parental consent before collecting data from children, but before long, tech companies were exploiting a loophole. You see, the law only applies on sites that know their users are under 13. So those slippery tech companies simply added this line to their terms and conditions. COPPA is a weak law and it’s embarrassingly outdated. And while some of the language was modernized in 2013, this one has essentially barely changed. So how’s that going? “Sometimes I just look some Instagram over my sister’s shoulder.” “My favorite thing about TikTok are the sounds and filters.” “You are you?” Yeah, don’t kid yourself. Kids are on these platforms in droves. In one study, 40% of 9 to 12 year olds said they visit Instagram every day. It’s 78% for YouTube. “I go on YouTube a lot.” “You can see different personalities. And I like to find one that fits my personality.” “Why is it called YouTube? Is it like your channel?” Now Google launched a kid-friendly platform in 2015, but kids are still visiting the main site in large numbers, and there are still tons of channels targeting them. We don’t allow kids in R-rated movies, do we? But when kids log into YouTube, they enter a world designed by adults, for adults. Here are some popular YouTube videos, all aimed at children. And here are the ads that YouTube runs alongside them. These were all documented in a 2020 study. , sex, politics for some reason. The survey found that ads were shown on 95% of videos targeting children and a fifth were not age appropriate. So why does a 10-year-old child get a ad for a dating site? Well, the internet is a place designed by experts to capture data and turn it into money. And they don’t care whose data it is. I want you to pause and try to imagine if a toy would track your child’s data in the same way that the Internet would. Can it not? No worries. We’ll show you. “Twist Toys brings the online world to life and presents Share Bear, the bear that learns all about you and then sells the data for a profit.” “I’m just a teddy bear.” “Share Bear has all the features you need in a cuddly best friend: location tracking, conversation monitoring, remote-triggered camera.” “I’m watching you.” “He makes predictions about your life.” “You look sad today. Here’s an ad about losing weight.” “But remember, he doesn’t keep your secrets. Instead, they are sold directly to multibillion-dollar technology companies.” “Awesome.” “Sweet dreams. I’ll follow you.” “Share Bear.” “Caution. Share Bear used bad data practices. Your privacy is being violated. You are being sold ruthlessly to. Companies will exploit children with impunity. Stay away from fire.” In the real world, we tell our children, “Don’t talk to strangers.” But online, tech companies let those strangers contact our kids easily. That’s what another shocking study from 2020 found when researchers created fake profiles on Instagram claiming to be teenagers. The more posts they liked, the more extreme the images they saw. Users who Instagram believed to be 14 and 15 years old were shown these sexualized photos. Another teen user who expressed an interest in dieting was shown images of extreme weight loss. Here’s what Instagram showed a user he thought was 14 years old when he showed an interest in fitness. And these disturbing images? Instagram showed them to a girl she thought was 13 years old. And within two days of joining Instagram, all the fake accounts were getting private messages from adult strangers, some of which contained links to pornography. Would you buy the real version of this toy for your teen? ‘Call your children. The stalkie-talkie has arrived. It is the toy that uses algorithms to connect children with adult strangers. Just squeeze the button and see if anyone wants to say hello.” “Where do you live?” “A new best friend.” “Do you want to earn some extra money?” “So popular.” “Why don’t you put on your swimsuit?” “Totally cool.” “This toy literally invites total strangers into your life. But we won’t tell Mom and Dad if you don’t. Caution. Talking to strangers can be dangerous. Age verification is weak at best. Predators use this as a tool to make children. Batteries are sold separately.” New. You wouldn’t buy a Stalkie Talkie for your kids and you wouldn’t buy a Share Bear for them. But we let our kids play with the same technology every day, technology built by programmers with one goal in mind: to make sure your kids stay on the app as long as possible. “As these young women start consuming this eating disorder content, they become more and more depressed. And it even makes them use the app more. And so they get into this feedback cycle where they start hating their bodies more and more.” And here’s the thing, all these manipulative technologies, they’re done on purpose. This is a feature, not a bug, a feature designed by adults to make a profit over the safety and well-being of our own children. And there are she’s damn good at it. “I think I want to get rid of this thing, but then I’m like — no, more YouTube. More Instagram. More TikTok.” But hey, these kids know what they signed up for, right? I mean, it’s all in the terms.” OK. So start with this?” “Yes.” “The following restrictions apply to the use of the Service.” “You may not access, reproduce, download, distribute-” “broadcast, broadcast, display, sell-” “license, modify , modify, or -” “license-” “or otherwise use the Service, except…” “—prior written order from YouTube.” “What does all that mean to you?” “I have no idea what I said. Big Tech wants you to think this is an unsolvable problem. But guess what? It’s already being addressed. A new law came into effect in the UK this fall, the Age Appropriate Design Code. It is the first of its kind in the world. And it forces tech platforms to build their products from the ground up with children in mind. The code protects children under the age of 18 and applies to all sites that a child can access. access. But here’s the big thing. It puts the responsibility of protecting children to the tech companies, not the parents or the kids. Now look what happens in the weeks before the UK bill came into effect. One by one the platforms announced major changes to their privacy policies for children. All of this, by the way, also benefits American children. No thanks. But it also proves that the technology to protect children has always been around.” It leads The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram more secure, but won’t make the necessary changes because they’ve put their astronomical gains on the people.” The evidence is overwhelming. We wouldn’t need whistleblowers to tell us this. The welfare of millions of children has been rejected so that a few big tech companies and their shareholders can get rich. Big Tech must be held accountable and COPPA must be replaced with a law fit for the 21st century. But US lawmakers don’t have to come up with a solution from scratch. An effective model already exists. They just need to copy it. The stakes couldn’t be higher.




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