Overhyped Fear Of Child Predators Leading To Real Concerns About Child Privacy

from the funny-how-that-works dept

Once again, we have a situation of unintended consequences due to politicians trying to make headlines for "protecting the children." As you probably know, the press and politicians have been pushing for a bit of a moral panic over the idea that kids are at great risk from predators online. The truth is that the risk has been blown way out of proportion. Most child abductions come in cases where the abductor knew the child, and most children know better than to talk to random strangers online. Yet, because of all the scary articles in the press, plenty of politicians went around demanding that various social networks put in place age verification systems in order to "protect" the children. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal led the charge in insisting that predators on social networks was a huge problem.

Of course, now that the social networks have started putting in place age verification systems, child safety experts are realizing that this actually creates some serious privacy issues, most likely bigger than any threat of predators. The various companies that are providing age verification tools are building up databases of info on children, and many of them are using that info to market stuff specifically to children. So, now, rather than being mostly anonymous online, various marketers have a bunch of info -- including name, age, address, school and gender -- that they wouldn't have access to otherwise.

And, of course, even though he's partly responsible for this turn of events, Richard Blumenthal is quite upset. After first claiming that he's only just been hearing about such privacy issues, he claims:
"The attorneys general would be very concerned about using age verification to promote marketing or any other kinds of promotional pitches or gimmicks aimed at specific age groups. Targeted marketing may have its place, but it should not be coupled with the issue of childhood safety."
Perhaps he should have thought of that before demanding that social networks hire companies to collect that kind of information.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    eleete, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 6:27am

    Protect the Children from the Representatives

    With representatives like Mark Foley out of a job, I think we need protection from the representatives now. After all, shouldn't they be held to the very laws they pushed so hard for ?

    "Foley chaired the House caucus on missing and exploited children and was credited with writing the sexual-predator provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which Bush signed in July. A photo on the White House Web site shows Foley among those attending the signing ceremony."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Richard Ahlquist (profile), Nov 18th, 2008 @ 7:14am

    The flip side of all these stupid verification systems

    The thing I hate about this is it punishes the parents too. My 6 yr old is very computer literate. She has her own and uses it in a public area of the house and rarely needs direct supervision. That said nearly every bloody offer out there requires she register and start the bloody mess of ID and PW that I just hate because now I have to not only remember 30 password/login combos of my own, but I have toe remember her My Littlest Pet Shop login her Buildabear login etc. WTF companies can you not do something nice without sucking marketing info out of everyone?!?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 7:17am


    If you don't want companies to use that data, then to make them collect it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    amalyn, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 7:39am

    Re: The flip side of all these stupid verification systems

    A thought: some sort of password management.

    Whether you do the non-secure but fast and simple of a text file* with the plaintext passwords to copy/paste from, or look into software that manages logins for you, or possibly a fingerprint swipe reader.

    Probably wouldn't suggest doing plaintext password file on the machine, in terms of your daughter ending up thinking this is 'good security behaviour/practises' in future.

    Fingerprint reader might be an interesting solution, especially if you could set up the machine for requiring you or spouse to do an initial login / 'allowed to be on the computer right now' verification, and then her verification that she wants to use her computer / log in to her site logins to play and learn.

    ** Maybe on a small flash drive on your keychain, or a drive modded into a locket for her to wear.
    I've been wanting for ages to play around with modding flash drives into wearables at more reasonable price points, but not had a specific project to work on. If you would be interested, feel free to get in touch with me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 8:03am

    Personally I do not see the problem and neither do the kids.

    There are a number of people who would love to have a E-Mail / Social Network connection. Some are located just a few miles from here. Unfortunately all of them are looking at the wrong end of daises but what else can they do. But! Still they need a e-Mail address how else can they receive their e-Mail? So people just do the neighborly thing and help them out by providing them with one. Seems only right. To bad the post office has a hard time with their mail but you know how government is; they never get anything right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Just another opioion, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 8:10am

    Save the children

    Now I'm all for the privacy and protection of "our children". But I think the government forcing these databases is outrageous, I mean, they had to know companies would do this crap. Nobody does nothing for free, and this is how they make their money, try to sell them useless stuff.
    In my opinion this goes back to the whole "parenting" thing. Parents need to understand and educate their children of why not to give out any info, pics, etc to really anybody, even if they know them in person, if they know them in person, give it to them in person (stop fakers). As security experts say the "weakest security system, is the most sophisticated sytem". Get back to the basics and tell your kids why, how come, the if and or buts, and potenial dangers of not following the guide lines. Like Mike said "So, now, rather than being mostly anonymous " they should just stay anonymous and don't give anyone the chance to identify them, or the chance to potenially harm them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    oblivious, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 8:14am

    child laws

    Maybe parents should just teach their children about internet safety and about NEVER clicking on a link in an email sent from someone they don't know and NEVER giving out personal information in an email, or online unless they go directly to the site themselves by TYPING in the URL. Phishing is easily done and is where most of these people get the private info they want. My daughter also does the Pet Shop thing, but we have not gotten any advertisements from that at this point. We need more education, not politicians directing our lives with laws that aren't enforced. Too much political intervention is what causes all the crap like this!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Overcast, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 8:27am

    And there won't be a way around this system?

    It may end up - probably will end up being more of a problem than a solution.

    But that's the way of government. Hype a problem, that's not really a problem, then offer a solution; that's not really a solution. And then demand more tax money to pay for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Some Guy, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 9:52am

    Re: Re: The flip side of all these stupid verification systems

    Some alright ideas but I think a simpler solution is RFID tags. Definitely not as frustrating as a finger scanner (which I have). Not as complicated as modding a flash drive (sorry). And more secure than text files.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    WAR, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 10:11am

    RE: Remember pen and paper, people?

    My five year old has a small telephone book that has the websites, usernames and passwords printed in it in HER handwriting. I defy anyone trying to steal it to make heads or tails of it -- but she can.

    It helps keep her organized, and it is yet another way for me to keep track of her Web doings. (I have a copy of her book as well, with dates and hits I compile from the parent monitoring software we installed.) Am I overdoing it? Probably. But she's my kid, and that is my job. Not the government's, not big industry's. MINE. And I take it seriously.

    Will this get harder as she gets older? Undoubtedly. But we are trying to educate her in how to be safe, how to be savvy -- trying to lay the groundwork for her to be a conscious, intelligent Internet user.

    Wish us luck!


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    slimcat (profile), Nov 18th, 2008 @ 10:22am

    Mongolians !

    "Goddamn Mongorians break my shitty wall". ~With apologies to Trey and Matt.

    It doesn't matter what kind of wall you put up to protect something or someone. There will always be 'mongolians' to find a way to exploit it in some way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    gyffes, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 12:47pm

    Re: Protect the Children from the Representatives

    My favorite bit about Foley? For three days, Fox 'News' ran in their ticker "DEMOCRATIC Representative Foley..." [emphasis mine]

    We Distort, You Accept Without Questioning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Him ThatIs, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 6:55pm


    This won't work all the time, but how about you and/or your children create an alternate persona for the web. Example: mine was born on 1-1-1970 lives on 1234 Crenshaw Road or Uddaway Street in Nowhere, MI 12345. email address you@msn.com or jifjhghfug@msn.com. Obviously this is fake and useless to marketers, but they are not my concern. Freedom to surf the web and view various forms of information is. Unless you are buying form a website there's typically little need to give up your own or your child's personal information. This also cuts down on spam in a big way. Please give any other ideas/getarounds to the parents in particular.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    shmuelevin, Nov 19th, 2008 @ 8:59am

    Revolutionary concept for age verification online

    Up until recently age verification solutions for minors raise three major concerns:
    • The kinds of publicly available data are indeed not available for minors or are restricted by federal privacy laws.
    • Using schools for confirming the age of minors and for taking the role of digital notary, raises among others, serious privacy concerns and eventually it will also promote marketing or any other kinds of promotional pitches or gimmicks aimed at school age children.
    • Potential abuse by online predators through identity theft.
    Now, for the first time, there is a solution that overcomes all above mentioned shortfalls; an innovative biometric age verification system, provided by VerificAge (www.verificage.com):
    • VerificAge's solution does not use any kind of data base. Eliminating risks involved in storing and maintaining data.
    • It does not identify the user personally but rather his/her age group category; therefore, the user's privacy cannot be jeopardized.
    • The system is based on a "one time" biometric measurement that can distinguish a child (under 14 years old) from an adult with a very high accuracy rate.
    • It can assert a user's age every time he wishes to access a website, content, or while interacting with others
    It seems that this solution is going to change children's surfing culture on the Net.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 19th, 2008 @ 5:18pm

    Re: Revolutionary concept for age verification online

    That's a joke, right? I mean, there are so many problems with that concept that I can't imagine that you're serious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    J Bowman, May 9th, 2009 @ 11:42pm

    Real age verification

    I believe that age verification can work great if it is true and real and not some hidden ploy to get people signed up on unwanted websites costing them significant amounts of money. Further, verification MUST be totally free and NOT done by extracting funds from any source of any individual's account, credit card or otherwise, even to be returned at a later date. This is a scam pure and simple. Nothing more than a way for these so called verification companies to earn interest on these funds while in their possesion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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