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Facial Recognition Deployed on Children at Hundreds of US Summer Camps

The Washington Post describes a parent whose phone “rings 10 times a day with notifications from the summer camp’s facial-recognition service, which alerts him whenever one of his girls is photographed enjoying their newfound independence.”

You can also call your kid if you think they look unhappy or if you are unsatisfied with them in any way and nag them. So kids mob photographers with big, fake smiles and beg to be photographed so their parents won’t harass them.

The companies have “privacy policies” that grossly overreach, giving them perpetual licenses to distribute all the photos they take forever, for any purpose. They claim to have super-secure data-centers, but won’t describe what makes them so sure their data centers are more secure than, say, the NSA’s, Equifax, or any of the other “super secure” data centers that have been breached and dumped in recent memory.

And while parents enjoy all this looking at their kids while they’re away in theory, they also report a kind of free-floating anxiety because they know just enough about their kids’ lives at camp to worry, but not enough to assuage their worries.

One overseer of two camps tells the Post that more concerned parents call her in two hours than used to call in an entire month. One company adds that their service is now being used by over 160,000 parents — and for children as young as six.

At least one camp takes over 1,000 photos each day — scanning each one with facial recognition technology — and the Post reports that facial-recognition technology has now already been deployed at “hundreds” of summer camps all across the United States.

Most camp directors said they appreciate that the photos can bring peace of mind to lonely parents worried about their kids’ first faraway solo trip. But the photos can also end up perpetuating a cycle of parental anxiety: The more photos the camp posts, the more the parents seem to want – and the more questions they’ll ask about their kids.

When a camper isn’t smiling or is on the outside of a big group shot, counselors said they know to expect a phone call from back home. Liz Young, a longtime camp director now helping oversee two camps on the coast of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, said she now fields as many concerned-parents calls in two hours as she used to get all month – mostly from parents asking about how their kids look on camera, or whether they’re being photographed enough.

One camp, Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods in rural Decatur, Michigan, has four photographers and a social-media director on staff to help push nearly constant updates onto Bunk1, Facebook and Instagram, where recent photos of kids jumping into a lake or firing bows and arrows have netted hundreds of comments and “likes.” The facial-recognition system is in its second summer at the camp, and roughly half of all parents of its campers have signed up.

Some of the kids, Hardin said, are so accustomed to constant photography that they barely notice the camera crew. It’s the parents, she said, who struggle with the distance – and who are desperate for the reassurance the facial-recognition systems provide.

Some parents race to share the photos on social media as a way to curate their kids’ childhood and offer visual evidence that their family is worth envying.

The photos could inflame new tensions for kids hitting the age – generally, in the pre- and early teens – when they can start to feel awkward about all the photos their parents post. But they can also foster unease for kids questioning how much of their emotions and internal lives they’re comfortable sharing in every moment, even when they’re far from home.

“There’s the contradiction of these really old-fashioned summer camps with no electricity in the cabins, no cellphones . . . but the parents can check in daily to look at the expressions on their kids’ faces,” she added. “Part of childhood development is: It isn’t always 100 percent smiling.”

Schools Are Locking Students’ Phones Away to Help With Concentration

After one teacher at San Lorenzo High School brought pouches, created by the tech start-up Yondr, into her classroom to lock away students’ phones, the entire school began using them from the beginning of the school day at 8 a.m. until the end of the day at 3:10 p.m. According to a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center, more than half of teens said they felt loneliness, anxiety, or upset in the absence of a cellphone. The study also found that girls were more likely to feel these sentiments than boys.

“If something feels weird about modern life to young kids who are dealing with a lot of angst and anxiety in general, maybe it has something to do with relating to the world primarily through a screen eight hours a day,” Yondr’s founder Graham Dugoni told CNBC. Students said they initially felt awkward and annoyed having their phones taken away during the school day, but added that they started to see more teens interacting with each other. One student added that not having a phone in class helped with concentration.

Attackers Can Track Kids’ Locations Via Connected Watches

Over the last year of looking at kids GPS tracking watches we have found some staggering issues. With these devices it almost seems that having multiple security issues is the new normal.

While parents and guardians may get a feeling of security from using these devices, our testing and research shows it’s just that, a “feeling”.

A couple of years ago we bought and reviewed a number of smart kids tracker watches, including some Gator watches from TechSixtyFour.

After chatting to our friends at the Norwegian Consumer Council, who we know well through My Friend Cayla, we discovered they were working on exactly the same tech, by complete coincidence!

We decided to pause our project to avoid us duplicating their efforts. Shortly after, the Norwegian Consumers Council published the excellent ‘WatchOut’ research that demonstrated trivial access to kids GPS locations through vulnerable tracker watches, including the Gator.

It received plenty of press coverage and resulted in several kids tracker watches taking swift action to secure their systems.

A year on, we decided to have a look at the Gator watch again to see how their security had improved as a result of their actions.
TL; DR

Guess what: a train wreck. Anyone could access the entire database, including real time child location, name, parents details etc. Not just Gator watches either – the same back end covered multiple brands and tens of thousands of watches

The Gator web backend was passing the user level as a parameter. Changing that value to another number gave super admin access throughout the platform. The system failed to validate that the user had the appropriate permission to take admin control!

This means that an attacker could get full access to all account information and all watch information. They could view any user of the system and any device on the system, including its location. They could manipulate everything and even change users’ emails/passwords to lock them out of their watch.

YouTube’s Biggest Stars Are Pushing a Shady Polish Gambling Site

Untold riches are promised on Mystery Brand, a website that sells prize-filled “mystery boxes.” If you buy one of the digital boxes, some of which cost hundreds of dollars, you might only get a fidget spinner — or you might get a luxury sports car. For just $100, users can win a box filled with rare Supreme streetwear. For only $12.99, they can win a Lamborghini, or even a $250 million mega-mansion billed as “the most expensive Los Angeles realty.” Or at least that’s what some top YouTubers have been telling their young fans about the gambling site — with the video stars apparently seeing that as a gamble worth taking, especially after a dip in YouTube advertising rates.

Over the past week, hugely popular YouTube stars like Jake Paul and Bryan “Ricegum” Le have encouraged their fans to spend money on Mystery Brand, a previously little-known site that appears to be based in Poland. In their videos, Paul and Le show themselves betting hundreds of dollars on the site for a chance to open a digital “box.” At first, they win only low-value prizes like fidget spinners or Converse sneakers. By the end of the video, though, they have won thousands of dollars worth of tech and clothing, like rare pairs of sneakers or Apple AirPods. If they like the prize, the YouTube stars have it shipped to their house.
The gambling site doesn’t list the owner or location where it’s based, although the site’s terms of service say it’s “subject to the laws and jurisdiction of Poland.” To make matters worse, users of the site might not even receive the items they believed they have won. “During using the services of the website You may encounter circumstances in which Your won items will not be received,” the terms of service reads.

Also, while the ToS say that underage users are ineligible to receive prizes, many of the YouTubers promoting the site have audiences who are underage. “[Jake Paul], for example, has acknowledged that the bulk of his fanbase is between 8 and 15 years old,” reports The Daily Beast.

Link Between Social Media and Depression Stronger In Teen Girls Than Boys, Study Says

According to a new study published in the journal EClinicalMedicine, the link between social media use and depressive symptoms in 14-year-olds may be much stronger for girls than boys. CNN reports:
Among teens who use social media the most — more than five hours a day — the study showed a 50% increase in depressive symptoms among girls versus 35% among boys, when their symptoms were compared with those who use social media for only one to three hours daily. Yet the study, conducted in the UK, showed only an association between social media use and symptoms of depression, which can include feelings of unhappiness, restlessness or loneliness. The findings cannot prove that frequent social media use caused depressive symptoms, or vice versa. The study also described other factors, such as lack of sleep and cyberbullying, that could help explain this association.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on 10,904 14-year-olds who were born between 2000 and 2002 in the United Kingdom. The data, which came from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, included information from questionnaires on the teens’ depressive symptoms and social media use. Depressive symptoms were recorded as scores, and the researchers looked at which teens had high or low scores. They found that on average, girls had higher depressive symptom scores compared with boys. The researchers also found that girls reported more social media use than boys; 43.1% of girls said they used social media for three or more hours per day, versus 21.9% of boys. The data showed that for teens using social media for three to five hours, 26% of girls and 21% of boys had depressive symptom scores higher than those who used social media for only about one to three hours a day.
As for the gender gap, Yvonne Kelly, first author of the study and professor of epidemiology and public health, believes it has to do with “the types of things that girls and boys do online.”

“In the UK, girls tend to more likely use things like Snapchat or Instagram, which is more based around physical appearance, taking photographs and commenting on those photographs,” she said. “I think it has to do with the nature of use.”

Chinese schools enforce ‘smart uniforms’ with GPS tracking system to monitor students

Chinese schools have begun enforcing “smart uniforms” embedded with computer chips to monitor student movements and prevent them from skipping classes.

Eleven schools in the south-west province of Guizhou have introduced the uniforms, which were developed by local tech firm Guizhou Guanyu Technology.

As students enter the school, the time and date is recorded along with a short video that parents can access via a mobile app.

Facial recognition further ensures that each uniform is worn by its rightful owner to prevent students from cheating the system.

Skipping classes triggers an alarm to inform teachers and parents of the truancy, while an automatic voice alarm activates if a student walks out of school without permission.

A GPS system tracks student movements even beyond the school grounds.

The two chips — inserted into each uniform’s shoulders — can withstand up to 500 washes and 150 degrees Celsius, the company told state media Global Times.

Alarms will also sound if a student falls asleep in class, while parents can monitor purchases their child makes at the school and set spending limits via a mobile app, according to the company’s official website.

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Parents are using GPS ankle monitors to track their teenagers like criminals

There’s no shortage of GPS trackers for parents who want to keep tabs on their children’s driving. After all, car accidents are the leading cause of death for American teens. For some parents, that’s enough.

For others, nothing but a full-on ankle monitor—the kind used to track people released on bail or parole—will do.
Frank Kopczynski, the owner of Tampa Bay Monitoring (in fact located in Clearwater, Florida), also runs Action Plus Bail Bonds. He said the biggest challenge in strapping an ankle monitor to teenage non-offenders is whether they can remove it themselves.

“We provide a bracelet that is near-impossible to cut off,” Kopczynski told Quartz. “It also allows us to have two-way communication and gives us the option of sounding a piercing alarm.”

Along with the 95-decibel siren, if a teen is out past curfew, their parents can call Tampa Bay Monitoring’s office, and Kopczynski or one of his employees will activate the ankle monitor’s speaker and tell the child it’s time to get home or the police will be called. Hearing “this god-like voice out of nowhere” is generally effective, said Kopczynski; since the system is two-way, staff can also monitor the teen covertly.

The electronic monitoring industry has more than doubled in size in recent years, and has expanded well beyond its initial market of people on bail or parole. For example, immigrants detained by US authorities and put on an electronic monitoring program are required to pay extremely high fees—$880 for activation plus $420 a month— while they await their hearings.

What Children Want to Know About Computers

When visiting a series of eight primary school class rooms recently, I talked to children (aged 5 -12 years old) about how computers work. They drew pictures of what they thought is inside a computer, and then we discussed the drawings as a class. Many of the children knew the names of the components within a computer: a chip, memory, a disc, and they were often insistent that there should be a fan in there. They knew that there would be wires inside, and that it would need a battery to make it work. The child who created drawing 1 has made a nice job of piecing together a possible design from what they knew about computers – can you spot what is missing though?

Drawing 1.

Drawing 2.

The artist of drawing 2 knows there is a chip inside (made by HP in this case!) and to their credit they know there is code too. Notice that the code is not physically located on the memory or the chip but somewhere in the wires. In general there was some puzzlement about how code related to the computer, as exemplified by the artist of drawing 3 who confessed “I know a computer is full of code and all devices. I am not sure what it looked like so I just scribbled.”

Drawing 3. 

Often, the children spent a while thinking about what is outside the computer and how information might get inside. It was quite common to see pictures in which the artist had folded the page to show this distinction but it was often a mystery how pressing a key or touching the screen might make something happen in the computer. Children who had spent time tinkering with computers at home had an advantage here: “I broke my keyboard once and I saw what was inside. It would send a signal from key to computer to the monitor”.

What the pictures, and subsequent classroom discussions told me is that the children know names of components within a computer, and possibly some isolated facts about them. None of the pictures showed accurately how the components work together to perform computation, although the children were ready and willing to reason about this with their classmates. Although some of the children had programmed in the visual programming language, none of them knew how the commands they wrote in Scratch would be executed in the hardware inside a computer. One boy, who had been learning about variables in Scratch the previous day wanted to know whether if he looked in his computer he would really see apps with boxes full of variables in them. I love that question because it reveals the mysterious boundary between intangible, invisible information and the small lump of silicon which processes it.

To be clear, I am not criticizing the children, who were curious, interested and made perfectly reasonable inferences based on the facts they picked up in their everyday lives. But I think that computer science educators can do better here. Our discipline is built upon the remarkable fact that we can write instructions in a representation which makes sense to humans and then automatically translate them into an equivalent representation which can be followed by a machine dumbly switching electrical pulses on and off. Children are not going to be able to figure that out for themselves by dissecting old computers or by making the Scratch cat dance. We need to get better at explicitly explaining this in interesting ways.

Children are currently piecing together their everyday experiences with technology with facts that adults tell them to try to make sense of how computers work. This can lead to some confusion, particularly if the adults in their lives are also unsure. One child thought, for example, that if you paid more money, then it would make Wi-Fi stronger. Others were curious about how Wi-Fi works on a train, and whether you really need to stop using your phone on a plane. A student advised the class that if we needed to save space on our phones, then we should delete videos from YouTube. The children, like most Windows users, wanted to know why their computers “freeze”, speculating that it could be because the chip is asleep or that too many people are using Wi-Fi. There was also a sense of wonderment and curiosity. A young boy was fascinated when he read about super computers and wanted to know more: do super computers have really big chips in them? A class of eleven-year-olds gravely debated whether people would be more or less clever if the computer had never been invented. These are the sorts of questions about computers which children want to explore. It’s our job as computer scientists, and as educators, to help them.

Google Is Teaching Children How to Act Online. Is It the Best Role Model?

Google is on a mission to teach children how to be safe online. That is the message behind “Be Internet Awesome,” a so-called digital-citizenship education program that the technology giant developed for schools.

The lessons include a cartoon game branded with Google’s logo and blue, red, yellow and green color palette. The game is meant to help students from third grade through sixth guard against schemers, hackers and other bad actors.

But critics say the company’s recent woes — including revelations that it was developing a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market and had tracked the whereabouts of users who had explicitly turned off their location history — should disqualify Google from promoting itself in schools as a model of proper digital conduct.

Among other things, these critics argue, the company’s lessons give children the mistaken impression that the main threat they face online is from malicious hackers and bullies, glossing over the privacy concerns that arise when tech giants like Google itself collect users’ personal information and track their actions online.

American corporate giants are no strangers to the country’s schools.

In the 1970s, General Motors circulated a free booklet in public schools that featured cartoon characters like Harry Hydrocarbon, who played down concerns about the health risks of industrial pollution and suggested that air pollution would soon not be a problem, according to a 1979 report, “Hucksters in the Classroom: A Review of Industry Propaganda in Schools.”

In the 1990s, Procter & Gamble promoted its own curriculum, “Decision: Earth,” in schools. Among other things, it instructed children that synthetic diapers were no more harmful for the environment than cloth diapers.

Around the same time, Campbell Soup sponsored a classroom kit called the “Prego Thickness Experiment.” According to a 1997 article in The New York Times, “Corporate Classrooms and Commercialism,” the kit was supposed to teach children the scientific method — by having them “prove” that Prego pasta sauce was thicker than rival Ragu.

Critics see a similar self-serving agenda with “Be Internet Awesome,” which presents malicious third parties as the primary online threat to children, while failing to teach them how to navigate corporate data-mining practices.

New York high school will use CCTV and facial recognition to enforce discipline

Next year, high schools in Lockport New York will use the “Aegis” CCTV and facial recognition system to track and record the interactions of students suspected of code of conduct violations, keeping a ledger of who speaks to whom, where, and for how long.

The record will be used to assemble evidence against students and identify possible accomplices to ascribe guilt to.

Lockport Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley justified the decision by noting, “We always have to be on our guard. We can’t let our guard down.”

Lockport will be the first school district in the world to subject its students to this kind of surveillance. The program will cost $1.4m in state money. The technology supplier is SN Technologies of Ganonoque, Ont., one of the companies in the vicinity of Kingston, Ontario, home to the majority of the province’s detention centers.

The Lockport district says that the system will make students safer by alerting officials if someone on a sex-offender registry or terrorist watchlist enters the property. None of America’s school shootings or high-profile serial sex abuse scandals were carried out by wanted terrorists or people on the sex-offender registry.

Deployed law-enforcement facial recognition systems have failure rates of 98%. The vendor responsible for Aegis would not disclose how they improved on the state of the art, but insisted that their product worked “99.97% of the time.” The spokesperson would not disclose any of the workings of the system, seemingly believing that doing so was antithetical to security.

Children struggle to hold pencils due to too much tech, doctors say

Children are increasingly finding it hard to hold pens and pencils because of an excessive use of technology, senior paediatric doctors have warned. An overuse of touchscreen phones and tablets is preventing children’s finger muscles from developing sufficiently to enable them to hold a pencil correctly, they say.

“Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago,” said Sally Payne, the head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust. “Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not be able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills.

“To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills.”

Payne said the nature of play had changed. “It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil.”

Although the early years curriculum has handwriting targets for every year, different primary schools focus on handwriting in different ways – with some using tablets alongside pencils, Prunty said. This becomes a problem when same the children also spend large periods of time on tablets outside school.

Nearly half of parents worry their child is addicted to mobile devices

Parents berate themselves for staying glued to their smartphones. But they’re even more worried their kids can’t detach from the small screen.

A survey from Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey found 47% of parents worry their child is addicted to their mobile device. By comparison, only 32% of parents say they’re addicted themselves.

Half of parents also say they are at least somewhat concerned about how mobile devices will affect their kids’ mental health. Nearly one in five say they’re “extremely” or “very” concerned.

“For as much attention as technology addiction receives among adults, parents — particularly those with teenagers — are far more concerned about their children’s device usage than their own,” Jon Cohen, chief research officer with SurveyMonkey, said in a statement Thursday.

According to the survey, 89% of parents believe it’s up to them to curb their children’s smartphone usage.

The survey conducted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29 included a sample of 4,201 adults, including 1,024 parents with children under age 18. Data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S. for adults over 18, based on Census data.

Recently, tech giants including Facebook, Google and Apple have been pushed to come up with solutions to prevent kids from growing addicted to technology.

This month, Common Sense Media and the non-profit Center for Humane Technology launched a campaign to explore the mental health consequences of technology.

The Truth About Tech campaign will be funded by $7 million from Common Sense and money raised by the new non-profit. At the time the campaign was launched, Common Sense said it would also use donated airtime from Comcast and DirecTV. The nonprofit now says its earlier statement is not accurate. Comcast said it is not supporting the Truth in Tech campaign. DirecTV would not comment.

“Parental concerns about technology addiction and the content children are exposed to on devices is very real, yet parents feel that they alone are responsible for managing these issues,” Common Sense Media CEO James P. Steyer said. “It would be nice if the tech companies would partner with parents in this effort.”

Former employees of Facebook and Google are among those leading the charge to urge tech companies to act.

Last month, two major Apple investors implored the company to explore ways to fight smartphone addiction among children. The investors collectively control about $2 billion in Apple shares. In response, Apple said it was adding more “robust” parental controls to its devices.

Common Sense and other children advocacy groups have particularly criticized Facebook for recently rolling out a Messenger Kids app aimed at kids under 13. Facebook has defended its decision to go ahead with it, pointing to the advice it received from a team of child experts and efforts it took to make sure parents had control over the app. But a recent Wired report detailing Facebook’s financial support of these experts, which Facebook says covers logistics costs for their time, added more momentum to the controversy over whether tech companies are trying to get kids hooked too early.

Many devices and services feature parental controls, but some parents may not be aware they exist. The Common Sense-SurveyMonkey survey found 22% of parents did not know YouTube — which has faced scrutiny over how easy it is for kids to find inappropriate videos — offered parental controls. Also, 37% have not used the controls before.

That’s a problem as YouTube often is the go-to entertainment platform of choice for kids, who have made creators such as Logan Paul superstars.

Among parents surveyed who say their kids watch YouTube videos, 62% said their kids have seen inappropriate videos on the site. Most, or 81%, said it’s the parents’ job to prevent kids from seeing these videos.

For parents who worry their kids spend too much time on their smartphones, here are some tips:

*Set time limits and enforce them. Block out time during the day where your kids can use a smartphone or tablet. And don’t give in when they might beg for “one more minute.”

*Explore parental controls. Most services such as YouTube offer them, but your smartphone has its own suite of tools to tailor the experience to your kids.

*Try zones where tech is not allowed. Want a phone-free dinner? Or no gadgets before bed time? Consider creating areas in your home where technology is completely off limits. Just remember parents have to follow these guidelines, too.

Is social media causing childhood depression?

Rangan Chatterjee is a GP and says he has seen plenty of evidence of the link between mental ill-health in youngsters and their use of social media.

One 16 year-old boy was referred to him after he self-harmed and ended up in A&E.

“The first thought was to put him on anti-depressants but I chatted to him and it sounded like his use of social media was having a negative impact on his health.”

So Dr Chatterjee suggested a simple solution – the teenager should attempt to wean himself off social media, restricting himself to just an hour before he went to bed. Over the course of a few weeks, he should extend this to two hours at night and two in the morning.

“He reported a significant improvement in his wellbeing and, after six months, I had a letter from his mother saying he was happier at school and integrated into the local community.”

That and similar cases have led him to question the role social media plays in the lives of young people.

“Social media is having a negative impact on mental health,” he said. “I do think it is a big problem and that we need some rules. How do we educate society to use technology so it helps us rather than harms us?”

A 2017 study by The Royal Society of Public Health asked 1,500 young people aged 11-25 to track their moods while using the five most popular social media sites.

It suggested Snapchat and Instagram were the most likely to inspire feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. YouTube had the most positive influence.

Seven in 10 said Instagram made them feel worse about body image and half of 14-24-year-olds reported Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety. Two-thirds said Facebook made cyber-bullying worse.

Consultant psychiatrist Louise Theodosiou says one of the clearest indications children are spending too long on their phones is their behaviour during a session with a psychiatrist.

“Two or three years ago, it was very unusual for a child to answer their phone or text during an appointment. But now it is common,” said the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital doctor.

She has seen a rise in cases where social media is a contributing factor in teenage depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. These problems are often complex and wide-ranging – from excessive use of gaming or social media sites to feelings of inadequacy brought on by a constant bombardment of social media images of other people’s lives, to cyber-bullying.

Often such children will refuse to travel to psychiatrist appointments, so a range of professionals have to make home visits to deal with the issue. It can take months to persuade them to leave their bedrooms.

“These kids are living in a fictional world, sometimes to the detriment of their physical health. They might have physical ill-health, like toothache, but they are still not wanting to leave their virtual worlds,” she said.

Dr Theodosiou has seen first-hand how difficult it can be for parents. She has heard of some sleeping with the home router to make sure the children cannot connect to the wi-fi in the middle of the night.

Even for those children whose social media use may be judged normal, there are still dangers in the way the internet has become a conduit into the lives of friends and celebrities.

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Apple says it looks out for kids, as investors cite phone ‘addiction’

Apple Inc said it “has always looked out for kids”, defending its technology policy for children, after two major investors urged it to address what they said was a growing problem of young people getting addicted to Apple’s iPhones.

Shareholders Jana Partners, a leading activist shareholder, and California teacher pension investor CalSTRS, one of the nation’s largest public pension plans, delivered a letter to Apple on Saturday asking the company to consider developing software that would allow parents more options to limit children’s phone use.

The issue of phone addiction among young people has become a growing concern in the United States as parents report their children cannot give up their phones. CalSTRS and Jana worry that “even” Apple’s reputation could be hurt if it does not address those concerns. Their letter was originally reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The Seemingly Pervasive Sinister Side of Algorythmic Screen Time for Children

Writer and artist James Bridle writes in Medium:

“Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatize, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level.

To begin: Kid’s YouTube is definitely and markedly weird. I’ve been aware of its weirdness for some time. Last year, there were a number of articles posted about the Surprise Egg craze. Surprise Eggs videos depict, often at excruciating length, the process of unwrapping Kinder and other egg toys. That’s it, but kids are captivated by them. There are thousands and thousands of these videos and thousands and thousands, if not millions, of children watching them. […] What I find somewhat disturbing about the proliferation of even (relatively) normal kids videos is the impossibility of determining the degree of automation which is at work here; how to parse out the gap between human and machine.”

Sapna Maheshwari also explores in The New York Times:

“Parents and children have flocked to Google-owned YouTube Kids since it was introduced in early 2015. The app’s more than 11 million weekly viewers are drawn in by its seemingly infinite supply of clips, including those from popular shows by Disney and Nickelodeon, and the knowledge that the app is supposed to contain only child-friendly content that has been automatically filtered from the main YouTube site. But the app contains dark corners, too, as videos that are disturbing for children slip past its filters, either by mistake or because bad actors have found ways to fool the YouTube Kids algorithms. In recent months, parents like Ms. Burns have complained that their children have been shown videos with well-known characters in violent or lewd situations and other clips with disturbing imagery, sometimes set to nursery rhymes.”

Very horrible and creepy.

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German watchdog tells parents to destroy Wi-Fi-connected doll

“A German government watchdog has ordered parents to “destroy” an internet-connected doll for fear it could be used as a surveillance device. According to a report from BBC News, the German Federal Network Agency said the doll (which contains a microphone and speaker) was equivalent to a “concealed transmitting device” and therefore prohibited under German telecom law.

The doll in question is “My Friend Cayla,” a toy which has already been the target of consumer complaints in the EU and US. In December last year, privacy advocates said the toy recorded kids’ conversations without proper consent, violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Cayla uses a microphone to listen to questions, sending this audio over Wi-Fi to a third-party company (Nuance) that converts it to text. This is then used to search the internet, allowing the doll to answer basic questions, like “What’s a baby kangaroo called?” as well as play games. In addition to privacy concerns over data collection, security researchers found that Cayla can be easily hacked. The doll’s insecure Bluetooth connection can be compromised, letting a third party record audio via the toy, or even speak to children using its voice.

Although the FTC has not yet taken any action against Cayla or its makers Manufacturer Genesis Toys, German data and privacy laws are more stringent than those in America. The legacy of the Stasi, the secret police force that set up one of the most invasive mass-surveillance regimes ever in Communist East Germany, has made the country’s legislators vigilant against such infringements.”

“Smart” toys are spying on kids

Emphasis added:

“Some people consider dolls creepy enough, but what if that deceptively cute toy was listening to everything you said and, worse yet, letting creeps speak through it?

According to The Center for Digital Democracy, a pair of smart toys designed to engage with children in new and entertaining ways are rife with security and privacy holes. The watchdog group was so concerned, they filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Dec. 6 (you can read the full complaint here). A similar one was also filed in Europe by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

“This complaint concerns toys that spy,” reads the complaint, which claims the Genesis Toys’ My Friend Cayla and i-QUE Intelligent Robot can record and collect private conversations and offer no limitations on the collection and use of personal information.

Both toys use voice recognition, internet connectivity and Bluetooth to engage with children in conversational manner and answer questions. The CDD claims they do all of this in wildly insecure and invasive ways.

Both My Friend Cayla and i-QUE use Nuance Communications’ voice-recognition platform to listen and respond to queries. On the Genesis Toy site, the manufacturer notes that while “most of Cayla’s conversational features can be accessed offline,” searching for information may require an internet connection.

The promotional video for Cayla encourages children to “ask Cayla almost anything.”

The dolls work in concert with mobile apps. Some questions can be asked directly, but the toys maintain a constant Bluetooth connection to the dolls so they can also react to actions in the app and even appear to identify objects the child taps on on screen.

The CDD takes particular issue with that app and lists all the questions it asks children (or their parents) up front during registration: everything from the child and her parent’s names to their school, and where they live.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

CIA-backed surveillance software marketed to public schools

“Conrey said the district simply wanted to keep its students safe. “It was really just about student safety; if we could try to head off any potential dangerous situations, we thought it might be worth it,” he said.

“An online surveillance tool that enabled hundreds of U.S. law enforcement agencies to track and collect information on social media users was also marketed for use in American public schools, the Daily Dot has learned.

Geofeedia sold surveillance software typically bought by police to a high school in a northern Chicago suburb, less than 50 miles from where the company was founded in 2011. An Illinois school official confirmed the purchase of the software by phone on Monday.

Ultimately, the school found little use for the platform, which was operated by police liaison stationed on school grounds, and chose not to renew its subscription after the first year, citing cost and a lack of actionable information. “A lot of kids that were posting stuff that we most wanted, they weren’t doing the geo-tagging or making it public,” Conrey said. “We weren’t really seeing a lot there.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Parents are worried the Amazon Echo is conditioning their kids to be rude

“I’ve found my kids pushing the virtual assistant further than they would push a human,” says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst and father of five who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. “[Alexa] never says ‘That was rude’ or ‘I’m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.'” Perhaps she should, he thinks. “One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

Alexa, tell me a knock-knock joke.
Alexa, how do you spell forest?
Alexa, what’s 17 times 42?

The syntax is generally simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t exactly reward niceties like “please.” Adding to this, extraneous words can often trip up the speaker’s artificial intelligence. When it comes to chatting with Alexa, it pays to be direct—curt even. “If it’s not natural language, one of the first things you cut away is the little courtesies,” says Dennis Mortensen, who founded a calendar-scheduling startup called x.ai.

For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting.

“One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

It’s this combination that worries Hunter Walk, a tech investor in San Francisco. In a blog post, he described the Amazon Echo as “magical” while expressing fears it’s “turning our daughter into a raging asshole.”

“How entitled children are making their parents’ lives hell”

“Sons are smashing windows, furious they’re asked to stop playing computer games. Doors are hanging off hinges having been slammed so hard in a fit of pique. Teenagers are holding knives to their mother’s throat, or threatening to kill themselves.

This is the pointy end of entitlement, the defining characteristic of this generation of children.

[…]

Mental health issues predicted

Kids who grow up insulated from difficulty and disappointment are also likely to struggle in adulthood if they don’t get into their first preference for uni, miss out on a job, or are dumped by the love of their life.”