Dear Privacy Pros,
I need your help. It’s not fair to be a parent and be aware of privacy. This needs to change. Educating kids is one thing, but what we really need to do is educate parents.
I read my son’s Christmas list the other day and on it were four things, one of which was a white Christmas—which it seems he won’t be getting—and another was the free messaging app, Tango. He’s been asking me if he can download it for a couple of weeks now, using the ever-present rationale, “All my friends have it,” and soliciting the ever-present response, “I’m not your friends’ mom.”
This time, however, he didn’t believe me. He was literally in tears. He couldn’t possibly believe that ALL of his friends’ parents would allow them to use something they aren’t allowed to use. His buddies group chat on this, send each other funny videos and basically have themselves an online party that I’ve told him he can’t go to. It’s terrible. I feel awful. It’s not that I don’t want him doing these things—on the contrary, I follow the danah boyd philosophy of giving kids the tools to be part of the online world so they can test and learn before they can really screw things up for themselves. But I won’t allow him to join a site where he’s able to be contacted by any Tom, Dick or hairy old (wo)man. And I won’t allow him to further confound the herculean task of compliance by juking the validation mechanisms.
“I know,” I said, “having me as a mom sucks sometimes. I totally get it. I’m sorry.”
Now, I know for a fact that many of these parents would never allow their kids to join Facebook because they’re not 13. But I also know that many of these same kids have Instagram accounts. What’s the diff?!?! Why do parents think Facebook is the under-13 danger zone, but other social media sites where children are sharing photos of themselves and their friends in their houses, bedrooms, jammies—Vines of them singing the new Taylor Swift song—are completely fine?
Kudos to the FTC for doing their part by warning yet another kids app maker for collecting data without parental consent, but when parents don't even know what they don't know, all that hard work is for naught. Perhaps we should be giving Facebook a great big thank you. Their privacy foibles are the only reason a lot of parents even know there’s an age limit. Now, if only they knew how to use the transitive property.
So, privacy pros, I’m asking for your help. For me. For my 11-year-old son. For all of us trying to be the best parents we can be. Spread the word: In your PTA meetings, in your local newspaper, host online awareness nights. In the meantime, I will be looking for a messaging app for kids under 13 and trying to find a way to encourage all my kid’s friends to switch.
Wish me luck.
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