There are lots of apps out there for parents spying on their kids computer/smartphone activities -- with the marketing pitch often being about how this will help "keep them safe" or some other such thing. mSpy is one of those companies, advertising right on the front page about how its snooping software can "keep children safe and employees efficient." It leaves out the bit about making both distrustful, but that's another debate for another day. Brian Krebs recently revealed that a "huge trove of data" had been leaked from mSpy and was being shared around the darkweb. And it exposed not just customer names but "countless emails, text messages, payment and location data" of those children and employees that the company was supposedly making "safe" and "efficient."
“There is no data of 400,000 of our customers on the web,” a spokeswoman for the company told the BBC. “We believe to have become a victim of a predatory attack, aimed to take advantage of our estimated commercial achievements.”
"Much to our regret, we must inform you that data leakage has actually taken place," spokeswoman Amelie Ross told BBC News.
"However, the scope and format of the aforesaid information is way too exaggerated."
She said that 80,000 customers had been affected. Initial reports suggested up to 400,000 customer details had been exposed.
"Naturally, we have communicated with our customers whose data could have been stolen, and described them a situation. We put in place all the necessary remedial measures and continue to work on mechanism of data encryption," she added.
We'll see. If history is any guide, the hack may be even worse. In almost every story of a big hack into corporate computer systems, the initial estimate on the number of accounts impacted is too low, and adjusted upward at a later date.
Either way, it appears that in the process of trying to make children "safe" -- the company may have ended up doing the exact opposite.
Like many people, video games have been an integral part of my life for about as long as I can remember. From my days visiting Wildcat! BBS systems where I'd play Trade Wars 2000 -- to obsessing over the Apple IIe, IIc and IIgs -- video games were not only an integral part of my childhood, they actually helped forge an adult career path. Swapping out graphics cards and building new PCs to play Quake 2 led to a job in Manhattan legal IT, which in turn resulted in a life focused on writing about technology. Aside from a few tics, I like to believe I wound up relatively normal, and video games have made my life immeasurably more rewarding.
That background usually forces me into the role of video game evangelist when surrounded by folks that, all too frequently, are engaged in hand wringing over the diabolical moral dangers games purportedly present. At a party recently, some friends expressed muted shock because a colleague's kid was, instead of being social, playing a game in which he was "herding human beings and keeping them in a barn to eat." I had to explain (skipping the part about how you'd need a mod to actually eat them) how this behavior wasn't indicative of a Jeffrey Dahmer in training, he was simply engaged in normal problem solving behavior on the new frontier:
Despite the fact that Minecraft is simply an amazing evolution of the Lego concept for the modern age, the moral panic surrounding the game never quite seems to abate. The latest case in point is over at the BBC, where the outlet implies it has heard all of the pro-Minecraft arguments before, it's just choosing to ignore them in order to portray the game as an unpoliced virtual-reality hellscape that's rotting the brains of children everywhere. While there are some good points embedded within, there are notably more bad ones, like the argument that kids should instead be reading, because reading engages imagination and builds character:
"I concede the point but say that it's two-dimensional, and that children should be exercising more than their mouse fingers. The other side asks why it's any worse than reading for hours at a time. Because, I say, reading allows you to imaginatively inhabit other minds. The opposition implies that this is just the latest moral panic, and that Stone Age elders probably thought the world was going to the dogs when people stopped just staring at the fire and started telling each other stories."
The author pretty clearly sees the lips of "the opposition" moving, he just can't apparently be bothered to actually hear what they're saying. Of course it makes sense to encourage kids to read as well as play games but to dismiss Minecraft as unimaginative shows a total misunderstanding of the massive, cooperative world-building that occurs in the game. Instead of actually playing the game and trying to understand it, the entire article is doused in fear over whether Minecraft is negatively influencing kids. The only concessions toward admitting the game's benefits come via gems like this:
"For some autistic children who have trouble with complex social interactions, Minecraft is clearly a good fit with its lack of intricate social cues and simple environment. But for many parents, the absence of that complexity, in a world where their children spend so much time, might be a reason to be wary."
Whether it's Minecraft, apps or the internet at large, there is such a thing as parenting -- or paying attention to and understanding what your children are up to. Even then, in 1987 my parents certainly had absolutely no understanding of the world I was experiencing via the local Wildcat! BBS, yet those experiences opened an entire world of social interaction with like-minded individuals I never would have experienced otherwise as an awkward, socially anxious tot with painful new braces. That world taught me many things my parents never could have, but parenting in the brick and mortar world still helped me understand where social lines in this new frontier were drawn (with the exception of that time a 35-year-old BBS member called my folks to complain about their son's occasionally-barbed tongue).
"...here’s a simpler way for parents who don’t feel they understand Minecraft to build their knowledge: sit down next to your child and watch them. Ask questions. See if they’ll teach you how to play it with them. This doesn’t mean you’ll avoid having to make decisions about the amount of time your child spends in Minecraft’s beguiling “hyper-reality” rather than the unblocky real world, but it does mean you’ll have a better idea – with less worries – about what they’re up to, and how it can fit into their life.
Like so many things, actually bothering to understand something before you waste energy fearing it makes all the difference in the world. There are millions of kids for whom Minecraft is opening an entire world of enjoyable problem solving and social interaction, the benefits of which may extend into and across their entire lives. Stagnating this potential with fear because you couldn't be bothered to try and understand what your children are experiencing wastes more than just your time.
The nanny-state arms race marches on, apparently. Whereas the previous intersection of overbearing government and technology has resulted in politicians attempting to ban the use of headphones while walking across the street, governments introducing all manner of silly policies in the name of "protecting the children", and even municipalities attempting to run psy-ops on citizens to keep them from smoking, Taiwan appears to be taking an even more direct approach with plans to fine the parents of children the government has deemed spend too much time with electronics.
Under rules passed last Friday by Taiwanese politicians, children under the age of two should be completely banned from using electronic devices, Xinhua, China's official news agency reported. Meanwhile under-18s should not be allowed to "constantly use electronic products for a period of time that is not reasonable". It means electronic products are now listed alongside cigarettes and alcohol as potentially dangerous vices.
And you can see their point, assuming you're a crazy person. Because electronics are tools primarily of communication and productivity, even if they're also used for entertainment, and government intrusion on young people's ability to communicate, learn, and be entertained is so far removed from alcohol and tobacco that one wonders how the argument was made with a straight face to begin with. The prospective "too much time" part of this legal equation has yet to be ironed out, but the brainchild for the law is, shall we say, more than slightly aggressive on the topic.
The new regulation is the brainchild of Lu Shiow-yen, a Taiwanese member of parliament who said his intention was to protect young people by stopping them using electronic devices for more than 30 minutes at a time. Parents who break the rules can be hit with fines of up to about £1,000 although it remains unclear how authorities will determine what amount of time is unreasonable.
There's a million reasons why this is stupid, but I'll boil it down to one specific reason: baseball. Baseball is huge in Taiwan. Baseball is enjoyed primarily on television and streaming electronic devices. And baseball, for all its wonderful aspects, takes roughly as much time as it takes for a mountain to form in the Nebraska prairie. Thirty-minute stretches of time as a limit effectively outlaws youngsters watching baseball. Put in that context, and really any other context, these sorts of artificial limitations on the electronics that dominate our lives (in a good way) are ludicrous.
Expect either the backlash here to be huge, or the law to go largely ignored. Either way, this is a political non-starter.
Spying is just all the rage these days, you guys. The CIA is spying on Congress, we're all spying on each other, our eBook readers are spying on all our stuff, and the NSA is spying on the entire world. If you've been following Techdirt for any measure of time, you realize that any rebuttal of these policies is occasionally met with safety concerns, specifically when it comes to kids. "Think of the children!"
No, seriously, think of them. What if they are the real threat to the glory of freedom and peace? Well, the UK is taking this question head on by asking caregivers in the country's nurseries to inform the government if any of those little shits look like they're going to become radicalized.
The directive is contained in a 39-page consultation document issued by the Home Office in a bid to bolster its Prevent anti-terrorism plan. The document accompanies the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, currently before parliament. It identifies nurseries and early years childcare providers, along with schools and universities, as having a duty “to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”.
The consultation paper adds: “Senior management and governors should make sure that staff have training that gives them the knowledge and confidence to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and challenge extremist ideas which can be used to legitimise terrorism and are shared by terrorist groups.
Oh, this should go well. Turning nurseries into tiny little spy centers where the staff are required to inform the state if they think that any children might become radicalized in the future sounds like a foolproof plan. Hey, Marge, do you think little Tommy might be a suicide bomber in the future. "No." What about cute little Jenny? "Nah." Okay, next we have to ask about sweet little Usman Jaffer? "IT'S HIM! IT'S HIM! I DONT' KNOW WHY, BUT I'M SURE IT'S HIM!"
Critics of the law, including some within the government, are equally unimpressed.
David Davis, the Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary, said: “It is hard to see how this can be implemented. It is unworkable. I have to say I cannot understand what they [nursery staff] are expected to do.
“Are they supposed to report some toddler who comes in praising a preacher deemed to be extreme? I don’t think so. It is heavy-handed.”
No kidding. As far as silly government requests of civilians went, I thought Chicago's "If you see something suspicious on public transportation, tell someone." campaign was as bad as it got. I mean, have they never ridden a CTA bus or train? Everyone's suspicious looking. But to try to get nannies involved in the spy game? C'mon guys, dial back the crazy a few notches.
Nigel Farage, head of the British political party UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), is certainly an interesting character. UKIP is something akin to a vastly more organized version of the Tea Party here in the United States, in that their policies are typically further to the right of the more common conservatives within the political system. Farage is known to be controversial, to say the least, in part because of some opposition to his party's policies (which probably applies to most leaders of political parties in general), but more so because he often times enjoys getting in front of reporters and cameras and doing really stupid things, such as going ad hominem on a group of politically-minded teenagers who created a satirical mobile game jabbing at UKIP's policies.
A phone app made by school students and featuring a character called Nicholas Fromage kicking immigrants off the white cliffs of Dover has been criticised by the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage. Farage claimed the game, developed by a group of sixth-formers from Canterbury Academy, was “risible and pathetic” and that it had “crossed the line”, despite saying he welcomed the opinions of young people.
The game, which is again clearly parody, is a cartoonish jab at some of UKIP's policies with regards to immigration. Without taking any stand on the issues being discussed by the game, it seems almost too facile to point out that Farage's taking on of the students, particularly going so far as to call their efforts "risible and pathetic", is ill-conceived at best. To leave those attacks with a footer claiming to welcome the input of younger generations simply serves to spotlight how dumb this is. Open dialogue ought to be a politician's best friend, particularly for the leader of a self-ascribed libertarian-leaning party. The school where the teenagers developed the game, thankfully, has the children's backs.
But the school’s principal, Phil Karnavas, has defended the app, which he says is a bit of fun to celebrate “brilliant, traditional British satire”.
"It’s a bit rich, bearing in mind some of the things the members of Ukip have said, for their leader to say they have crossed the line. Mr Farage can’t have it both ways. He cannot expect young people to engage in politics and then criticise what they say when they do.”
Imagine instead if the footer had been the entirety of Farage's response. What if he had simply said that he welcomes the input of younger Brits and suggested that political interest from the young is a good thing? After all, for all of the ribbing in the game, some of it quite sharp, the whole thing was framed by a disclaimer that the point was to create political dialogue. For Farage to pretend like some kind of line was crossed simply makes him look more childish than the children he attacked.
[Farage] said: “Those elements are risible and in many ways pathetic. I think I’m quite well known for having a sense of humour."
Pro-tip: if you have to tell a reporter about how everyone knows you have a great sense of humor, you don't have a great sense of humor.
The cable industry has long pretended that the cord cutting phenomenon either isn't real or that the only people cutting the cord are aging losers living in their parents' basement. Of course when you actually look at the data, while cord cutting remains a slow but growing phenomenon, most of the cord cutters are young, highly educated, employed, and make a good amount of money. As it turns out, you'll be surprised to note these folks are having children -- and these children are also starting to prefer on demand, a la carte services like Netflix instead of traditional cable.
For a few years now data has shown that Netflix is really eating the lunch of channels like Nickelodeon, given that toddlers in particular don't really care if they're watching the latest and greatest "True Detective" episode or not, and time shifting is important for parents on hectic schedules. A new research note from Bernstein Research notes that not only is viewership down for both cable and over the air broadcasts (8 and 9%, respectively, for the week of November 17 through 23), but it's dropping significantly for children's programming, which saw a 12% drop during that same period.
The numbers get worse quarter over quarter, where kid's programming saw a 15% drop. In fact the only growing cable viewership audience that week was the predominately-older Fox News audience, which had tuned in to Fox's live Ferguson coverage. Kids and parents, in contrast, just want the simplest, most enjoyable content experience on their own terms:
"A 5-year-old is probably less concerned with seeing the latest Spongebob Squarepants, compared to just reruns of that show," said Brett Harriss, a media analyst at Gabelli & Company. Nickelodeon and Disney Channel viewership fell 25% and 24% respectively, according to the Bernstein report. "For kids' programming it's a unique audience. They're not loyal to any network or channel. It's platform-agnostic," said Amy Yong, an analyst at Macquarie Capital USA Inc."
Of course these kids aren't going to stay young forever, and when they grow up, paying Comcast $150 a month for an ocean of awful reality TV programs and infomercials is going to seem as backward to them as drilling holes in the heads of the mentally ill to let the demons out.
from the 'terrorism'-no-longer-'motivational'-enough dept
The discussion over cellphone encryption continues, with much of the "discussion" being FBI director James Comey's insistence that Apple and Google simply can't do the very thing they're doing... and offering zero legal reasons why they can't. There have been a lot of horribles paraded around during the past few weeks, mainly of the terrorist or pedophile variety. None of it has been very persuasive to anyone not wearing a badge. The converts continue to love the preaching while those on the outside look on in bemusement.
It's not just Apple and Google at this point. Whatsapp, the messaging app Facebook recently purchased, will be providing end-to-end encryption. Twitter is fighting National Security Letter gag orders in court.
The No. 2 official at the Justice Department delivered a blunt message last month to Apple Inc. executives: New encryption technology that renders locked iPhones impervious to law enforcement would lead to tragedy. A child would die, he said, because police wouldn’t be able to scour a suspect’s phone, according to people who attended the meeting.
"A child would die." That's the argument. That's almost the only argument.
I'd hate to have people look at me and say, 'Well how come you can't save this kid,' 'how come you can't do this thing.'" (Sept. 25)
Smartphone communication is “going to be the preferred method of the pedophile and the criminal.' [Washington DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier] (Sept. 30)
Eric Holder: 'When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child...' (Oct 1st)
Unsurprisingly, when the subject was first broached in this fashion, Apple reacted as any company would when faced with the insinuation that its latest feature would kill children.
The meeting last month ended in a standoff. Apple executives thought the dead-child scenario was inflammatory. They told the government officials law enforcement could obtain the same kind of information elsewhere, including from operators of telecommunications networks and from backup computers and other phones, according to the people who attended.
There are other options, but the FBI and DOJ only want the easiest route. To get it, the same argument is presented again and again. The FBI, along with other law enforcement officials, have accused Apple and Google of marketing to criminals. The companies have reasonably responded by presenting the alternatives the FBI and others are willfully ignoring. Files stored on phones are often stored elsewhere. Talk to service providers. Demand the information from the suspects themselves.
James Comey says he wants to have a "discussion," but plugs his ears and shouts about pedophiles and dead children when options other than a law enforcement-only "back door/front door" are brought up. Apple and Google have told the FBI to change the law if it doesn't like the new reality. James Comey and the DOJ's second-in-command, James Cole, know this is the route they have to take if they want to force Apple and Google to drop encryption. They also know the current backlash against government surveillance makes this pursuit anything but a foregone conclusion.
And, so, Comey and Cole exhume the corpses of child victims and give them lead roles in their pathetic, ghoulish puppet show -- something they perform for any halfway-sympathetic audience. Comey and others in law enforcement know what it will take to pass legislation or amendments in their favor.
[Deputy Attorney General James] Cole predicted that [law change] would happen, after the death of a child or similar event.
So, it would appear that both sides of the argument are waiting for a watershed event to prove their respective points. Apple's Tim Cook believes "something major" will happen that will prove to customers that his company's decision to provide encryption by default was the right one. The DOJ and FBI, on the other hand, are apparently waiting for something much more tragic: the severe abuse and/or death of a child at the hand of criminal in possession of an encrypted phone.
One side is waiting for a horrible event their customers are shielded from. The other side is waiting for a horrible event to convert into legislative currency. If the side looking to exploit a tragedy strikes first, the second watershed event -- the one Tim Cook posits -- will have no positive outcome. The FBI isn't just willing to use dead children to achieve its aims. It's also willing to sacrifice the public's privacy and security at the same time.
Well, you knew it was coming. First, law enforcement trotted out random low level "law enforcement officials" to freak out about Apple and Google's announced plans to make encryption the default on mobile phones. Then it got taken up a notch when FBI boss James Comey lashed out at the idea, bizarrely arguing that merely encrypting your data made individuals "above the law" (none of that is accurate). And, now, Comey's boss, Attorney General Eric Holder has stepped up to issue a similar warning. However, Holder has cynically chosen to do so at the Biannual Global Alliance Conference Against Child Sexual Abuse Online.
At this point, it's all too predictable that when anyone in power is getting ready to take away your rights, they'll figure out a way to claim that it's "for the children!" The statements over the past week by law enforcement, Comey and now Holder are clearly a coordinated attack -- the start of the new crypto wars (a repeat of what we went through a decade and a half ago), designed to pass some laws that effectively cripple encryption and put backdoors in place. Holder's take on this is to cynically pull on heartstrings about "protecting the children" despite this having nothing, whatsoever, to do with that.
When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children. It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so.
Again, as stated last week, the same argument could be made about walls and doors and locks.
It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy.
The key issue here is "adequately" and forgive many of us for saying so, but the public no longer trusts the DOJ/NSA/FBI to handle these things appropriately. And, just as importantly, we have little faith that the backdoors that the DOJ is pushing for here aren't open to abuse by others with malicious intent. Protecting personal privacy is about protecting personal privacy -- and the way you do that is with encryption. Not backdoors.
But Holder used this opportunity to cynically pile on about criminals using encryption, rather than noting any of the important benefits towards privacy they provide:
Recent technological advances have the potential to greatly embolden online criminals, providing new methods for abusers to avoid detection. In some cases, perpetrators are using cloud storage to cheaply and easily store tens of thousands of images and videos outside of any home or business – and to access those files from anywhere in the world. Many take advantage of encryption and anonymizing technology to conceal contraband materials and disguise their locations.
The DOJ has long wanted to restart the crypto wars that it lost (very badly) last time around (even though that "loss" helped enable parts of the internet to thrive by making it more secure). For years it's been looking to do things like reopen wiretapping statutes like CALEA and mandate wiretap backdoors into all sorts of technology. Now it's cynically jumping on this bit of news about Apple and Google making it just slightly easier to protect your privacy to try to re-open those battles and shove through new laws that will emphatically decrease your privacy.
Here is a brief list of all the definitive information we have about the effects of video games on children. Violent video games make children more violent. Violent video games do not make children more violent. Video games make children less sympathetic to their fellow humans. Video games make children more sympathetic to their fellow humans. Video games cause severe health problems in children. Video games have health benefits for children. And, above all else, we know that parents in the United States are so certain that video games are a problem for their children that they brilliantly ignore the tools at their disposal to help them act like, you know, parents.
Prof Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit, based at Nottingham Trent University, said large numbers of under-16s were becoming hooked on games often accessed through social media websites. Many sites provide opportunities to play online poker with virtual money or give users a free introductory session to cash-gambling games with no age restrictions.
Free versions of poker and gambling sites are turning children into gambling addicts. Got it. How are they doing this, professor?
Speaking to the Times Educational Supplement, he said these games introduced young people to the excitement and rewards of gambling even when they are not playing for real money, adding: “It’s a bit like the old drug-dealing analogy of giving a bit for free and hooking them in.”
Ah, it's so simple! If you offer something for free and reward the user, they'll become hopelessly hooked and think they can earn real rewards in real life! Like drug dealers do! And play-money gambling sites! And the way Farmville has spawned a bunch of kids now hopelessly trying to grow plants out of their concrete sidewalks! Or how that free NFL game where you run back kickoffs has somehow magically convinced zillions of kids that they're Devin Hester.
Sorry, not buying it. Kids, by and large, are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. But, hey, it's not like the professor is only picking on poker sites.
Prof Griffiths identified games such as Candy Crush Saga which has been downloaded more than 500m times and gives players the option of paying money to access higher levels. He said that these games had a “moreishness quality, a bit like chocolate”.
“You say you’ll just have one chunk and you end up having the whole lot,” he said. “So you say, ‘I’ll just play for 15 minutes’, and you end up still there four or five hours later.”
So...the game being fun and costing something is the problem? Look, I dislike micropayments as much as the next person, but deciding that Candy Crush has caused a need for gambling education in every school in the UK is a bit like saying that because kids read comic books they should have to take a lesson on some of the unfortunate squeeze-effects of wearing superhero tights. It's just a little overboard.
And, I ask, knowing that this will be laughed off by my children-having peers, why is there no mention of parenting anywhere in these recommendations? I played cards with my friends as a child. I played free online poker when I was in high school. All the education I needed to know that I wasn't Phil Helmuth was my father pulling up a picture of the Las Vegas strip and saying, "They didn't build those enormous buildings by letting people win." That, along with some attentive parenting, ought to be enough.
Just in time for peak holiday travel, the TSA is shifting its marketing strategy in hopes of prepping children for their guest roles in its security theater. Police State USA reports the official YouTube presence of the TSA has just uploaded a cartoon (titled banally enough "TSA Kids Animation") that aims to answer all those questions kids will be asking during their initial trip through security, including, "Do I have to take off my shoes?" and "Why does the TSA need Mom's breast milk?"
What it won't allow them (or their legal guardians) to do is comment on the video or give it a thumbs up/thumbs down rating. The TSA PR staff has helpfully disabled all indicators of displeasure.
A "Parents Page" offers talking points for parental units to uncritically disseminate to their little traveling companions. The page reassures parents that no part of the process should involve separating them from their children. It then points out that parents will need to be separated from their children.
Children who can walk without assistance should walk through the metal detector separately from their parent or guardian.
Should the independent youngster set off the alarm, the TSA will try its hardest not to grope the youth until the offending item(s) is found.
If they alarm, TSA has procedures in place that have reduced, but will not eliminate, the need for pat downs to resolve the alarm, including multiple passes through screening technologies and other procedures.
This is Blogger Bob's out. No one can promise your child won't receive a security groping, but the TSA will do everything it can to ensure you miss your flight avoid utilizing the all-too-popular Swimsuit Area Patdown.
The TSA does seem to have improved its procedures for dealing with children with medical issues and disabilities. It appears all the negative press over the past decade has finally provoked a much-needed reassessment of its policies. TSA agents cannot remove children from their mobility devices (that's left to the guardian) and at no time will the child be separated from the parent. Parents with affected children can also request a private screening.
The TSA is trying to alleviate some of the fear these new flyers will experience when confronted with the excesses of airport security for the first time. The ultimate goal, of course, is to normalize its tactics. For kids, the way airport security is now is the ways it has always been. A new generation of travelers will adopt these standards as the new baseline, making it that much easier for the agency to deploy additional intrusions and stipulations in the future. It's not exactly brainwashing, but it's not exactly harmless, either. The smiling animal faces and the beep-boop noises of "Stop-Screen-Go!" sanitize another set of instructions handed down by a government that is mainly interested in the marketing of fear. It's the next generation's "Duck and Cover." Or "See Something Say Something." It's the evisceration of civil liberties under the cover of "safety."