from the don't-normalize-surveillance dept
Last week, when I wrote about Senator Graham’s crazy “But think of the children online!” moral panic hearing, I highlighted comments from a guy named Christopher McKenna, who runs an organization called “Protect Young Eyes,” which is one of those organizations that freaks parents out about all the evil things your kids might be up to. Among many of the crazy and misleading comments McKenna made, was one that was actually accurate, but interpreted incorrectly. McKenna whined that it was impossible to “watch over” kids online all the time. His solution was to force companies (and politicians) to censor the internet with filters and other tools. Or, at the very least he seemed to think parents needed better tools to spy on their kids’ online activities.
As we pointed out, another person on the panel suggested that rather than spying on our kids all the time, it would be better for parents to educate kids how to be good digital citizens, how to avoid danger, and how to better interact with the world around them. He was almost entirely ignored for the rest of the panel.
This divide in parenting techniques is a big deal, however. Thanks to new technologies it is much easier to spy on kids all the time. But we should be wary of that. Wired just had an article about how the app Life360 is ruining kids’ summer as parents are tracking everything they do:
That?s because for many adolescents, adult supervision has turned into adult surveillance. Schools are adopting facial recognition technology to monitor campuses. Parents can now remotely check their child?s browsing histories and social media accounts, watch their movements via motion-sensing cameras, and track everywhere they go with location-sharing apps. In a Pew Research Center study last year, 58 percent of US parents said they sometimes or often look at their teenager?s messages, call logs, and the websites they visit. In a separate study from 2016, 16 percent said they used location-sharing apps.
Life360 is one of the many digital monitoring tools now used by millions of parents in the United States. The app functions like an enhanced version of Apple?s ?Find My? feature that lets you share your location with friends or family?or what the company calls ?your Circle.? In addition to location sharing, Life360 lets family members see how fast people in their circle are driving, how much battery their cell phones have, and more. The service is free to download and use, although you can pay for additional features. According to the San Francisco-based company, Life360 had over 18 million monthly active users at the end of 2018.
This is… horrifying? We’re teaching the exact wrong thing to kids. We’re not teaching them to think for themselves, or to have their own life skills and street (or digital) smarts. Instead, we’ve become so overly worried (at a time when there is significantly less risks), and so infatuated with our ability to spy on someone’s every move, that we’ve not considered what kinds of lessons we’re teaching those kids in the first place. For one, teaching them to expect to be surveilled and watched at all times seems like a really awful idea. Second, it’s telling kids that parents don’t trust them. And, sure, not all kids should be trusted, but defaulting to that position seems like a terrible idea.
And all of this is happening at a time when people are freaked out about Facebook and Google’s “surveillance” of everyday activities — but what are we teaching our kids when apps like Life360 go way, way further. Indeed, much of the Wired article details how Life360 wraps up its constant surveillance in terms about how it’s “helping families.”
The term “helicopter parenting” became popular when I was a kid, but this seems to go way, way beyond that (perhaps this is “drone parenting?”). Protecting children is certainly a worthy goal, but what exactly are we protecting them from and at what costs? So much of this surveillance seems designed to prevent the very, very rare and very, very unlikely disaster scenarios. Those are horrifying, but given how unlikely they are, the actual “benefit” of this kind of surveillance is extremely low. However, the costs — training kids to give up their privacy, denying trust, hindering the ability of children to trust their own instincts and learn on their own — seems much, much higher.