What no one at #IGF2014 is courageous enough to address about #childsafetyonline

By Ayori S. 1 Comment

Internet Global Forum was developed to discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance “in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet” (among other key activities) through engaging with multiple stakeholders from internet users, NGOs, industry and government.

For more information on IGF please refer to the Fact Sheet: “What is IGF”

The key themes of the forum were Internet Access in developing nations such as Africa, maintaining an open & free internet, childhood safety, rights & protection, governance and implementing a multistakeholder process to continue to develop the internet in it’s growth and expansion to +7 Billion people in the world.
Well, my being a mother tunes my ears to areas related to human rights & equitable access and my passions were powerfully drawn to the topic of child safety online. When it came to child safety online the key messaging from panelists was quite boilerplate: Childhood safety is the parents responsibility. Sadly what key participants in IGF missed is the opportunity to rise the social responsibility of not just ISPs, but every corporation that benefits & monetizes off of the internet, especially those with engineering teams focused on technology that influences end users behaviors based on the highest bidder. This isn’t simply relegated to the Google’s and Facebook’s in the advertising industry, but any company where providing recommendations, or identifying the user is a key activity in maintaining their business’ competitive edge and profit share. Sadly panelists who did address this all seemed more concerned about taking a defensive angle for these companies than being honest and saying: We must ask for stronger collaboration & partnership with these organizations on this issue to make it a priority in innovation.

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The perspectives and participants in the discussions on child safety were highly varied, from young people to parents to NGOs and industry. Unfortunately the conversation lacked vision, and dare I say, lacked ambition as well. We’re not talking about my internet, my internet was AOL & Compuserve and parental controls was that annoying tab that you didn’t really care if your parents ever discovered because there were 100 different ways to get around it from proxies to irc to peer to peer sharing or even email and my favorite, google translate. We’re talking about an internet where kids are connecting to unknown private servers hosted under the desk of some UNIX admin working inside a colo where he cannot be traced or detected. Let me make this clear, YOU cannot sanitize the internet!!!  You couldn’t do it when I was a kid and you most certainly can’t do it now. For the parents who REALLY want us to try I just want to reach out to hug you and whisper gently in their ear “you can’t control the internet…” Because. You. Just. Can’t. I’ve spoken to parents and youth in a variety of settings on this matter and my message hasn’t changed from day one. You can’t police the internet AND trust me, you don’t want some government doing it for you either.

One powerful topic raised by many of the young people participating is that children have rights as well and that they ought to have the right to go online and look up information on any topic. Now what a parent allows in their house goes without question, but the internet is far beyond the doors of your home and always will be. Unfortunately the discussions at IGF seemed stuck on trying to drill this one simple concept into the heads of parents and parental advocates and sadly it wasted a lot of time. Time would have been better spent on discussion around the opportunities for industry to innovate and prioritize the needs of youth in their engineering roadmaps. I don’t mean blocking and filters, I mean the power of recommendations.

Right now industries are putting a ton of research, man power and machine power into developing powerful recommendations and identification engines. The need to generate a single unified view of the household, customer or user is pervasive throughout every cloud company out there. It’s the holy grail of opportunity. While some consumers are hell bent on not being identified– let’s be honest, it’s a losing battle because more and more we are willfully (albeit unknowingly) giving up our private information, unifying accounts and data, and saying to corporations “Hey, hey! Lookie! Lookit here! Here I am and these are all the things you can target to sell me!” And by the way, you aren’t the only one giving that information away, your friends, or your children’s friends are giving that information away about your child to these companies when they send a text, a kik, a snapchat, a tweet or any other measure of information over the web. And companies are increasingly developing methods to monetize this data ala Facebook messenger.

Here’s a question… What would happen if parents, NGOs, and advocacy organizations demanded that children’s eyeballs not be sold to the highest bidder? OR! What if we demanded that when our kids are being sold as clicks, they are being sold responsibly? What if we demanded that a code of conduct be instituted among corporations around recommendations and other behaviors and actions when the user can be identified as under the age of consent?

We’ve barely scratched the surface on the need for corporate responsibility regarding child safety online. The incredible engineering power behind companies that have monetized the internet is an incredible partner to addressing this challenge. We need a mandated partnership & collaboration between the businesses that generate and host the content that attracts young people. In short, if they can figure out how to serve an ad to a users based on the highest bidder, they can also ensure they are recommending healthy resources & information when the audience is a a youth.

These are the kinds of questions I wanted to see addressed at Internet Global Forum. I was fortunate to be able to raise them as a remote participant but I hope we can have more variety on the theme at next year’s forum and the ongoing multistakeholder convenings of the Cross Collaboration Group at ICANN and subsequent activities with the Internet Society.  I want to see more representatives of youth, parents, NGO and industry stand up and demand a definition around social responsibility of corporations when it comes to technology usage as it related to young people.

If I missed something here or if you have opinions please let me know in the comments cause it’s important to get this right for the next generation inheriting the internet and this earth.

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IGF2014 Session References:

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About the Author

Ayori S.

Ayori is an Oakland, CA native, a mother, entrepreneur and tech professional. She is a self taught software developer since age 11 and first founder at age 16. Currently she is a Senior Solution Engineer at salesforce.com where she's also held roles in Product Management, Business Analysis, and Technical Engineering. Prior to salesforce.com Ayori held engineering roles at large global outfits such as ABB Inc and Schneider Electric. Ayori's list of social contributions include organizing the first ever Hackathon on Black Male Achievement (Startup Weekend Oakland Black Male Achievement), founding Pitch Mixer Entrepreneur Forum (a pre-incubator for entrepreneurs in undeveloped regions), founding the Black Employee Network affinity group at salesforce.com, serving on the Communities Board at the Anita Borg Institute, mentoring Emerging Leaders in the Middle East and Africa for TechWomen (U.S. Department of State initiative started by Secretary of State Hilary R. Clinton), mentoring young African American males for The Hidden Genius Project (which provides black boys with knowledge, skills and support to create technical jobs in the 21st century), Producing/Designing Sid's Day of Discovery (science education android based tablet video game for pre-schoolers) for the Jim Henson Company featuring Sid the Science Kid and helping a long list of Fortune 500 enterprise businesses maintain their competitive differentiation by adopting cloud strategies. Ayori's latest venture, Hugging Yuri focuses on coaching and mentoring women from around the world on leadership and nurturing their lives to build healthy loving families and communities. Hugging Yuri advocates for families to raise their children with an abundant exposure to diverse cultures, science, technology, engineering, math, art and music against all odds. Follow her personal Twitter account @iayori