Does your Vision for Technology Match Your Child’s?

July 13, 2011

“What would you like your computer or the internet to do that it can’t do right now?” was the question posed to kids ages 12 and under in a global study conducted by international research firm Latitudeo. The results are phenomenal, and beg the question of how in touch are you with where technology can take us?

Among kids ideas were:

  1. Removing the distinction between online and offline. Children across the world imagine technologies that “seamlessly meld online and offline experiences”
  2. Shifting from seeing to interacting.  Nearly 4 in 10 kids imagine immersive experiences in physical spaces (e.g., real or simulated travel) or devices that assisted physical activities (e.g., playing sports)
  3. Ditching the keyboard and mouse. Kids want to interact with technology more intuitively. Of those kids who specified an interface, only half suggested the traditional keyboard/mouse configuration, while 20% explicitly requested verbal/auditory controls, and another 15% wanted touchscreen interfaces.
  4. Humanizing devices. 77% of kids wanted a more dynamic, human-level responsiveness (often anthropomorphized as robots or virtual companions), and 43% drew themselves or another person interacting with their creations, seeing devices as merely an extension of oneself.
  5. Better access to knowledge. Kids envisioned instant access to people, information, and possibilities. One-third of kids invented technologies that would empower users by fostering knowledge such as speaking a different language or learning how to cook.
  6. The Urge to Create.  A quarter of kids’ inventions centered on art or design, envisioning entire platforms for creating games, Web sites, action figures, and so on. Kids’ interest in a host of design fields—industrial, landscape, fashion, Web, and more—reflects the visual richness of the online world, as well as the can-do creative drive that tech encourages.

That’s pretty cool stuff coming from the minds of under-12-year-olds. Now we just have to help them achieve these dreams in an environment that is safe, secure, and protective.



Criddle Interviewed On New Internet Safety Curriculum

April 10, 2011

Port Townsend Leader’s Nicholas Johnson interviewed Linda Criddle about the development and roll-out of the LOOKBOTHWAYS Foundation’s  NetSkills4Life curriculum that will be available to the public this coming fall.  Here are excerpts from that interview Online safety made simple for schools.

Most of us – children and adults alike – browse, surf, click, search, download, upload, link and post with little thought toward protecting privacy or questioning content. The Internet remains a bit of a free-for-all where users with any and all motivations come together to share words, images and ideas, as well as goods and services. But what about those who aren’t interested in sharing, but instead, in taking, collecting?

“People don’t realize what they are sharing,” said Criddle, an expert on Internet crime and safety. “They do not realize that all those disparate things they said at different times create a very detailed map.”

In an effort to bring comprehensive, user-friendly Internet safety curriculum into the classroom, Criddle has developed a free, computer-based curriculum called NetSkills4Life through her nonprofit foundation, Look Both Ways. The curriculum is set to embark on a testing phase around May 15, and both Port Townsend and Chimacum fifth- and sixth-graders will be among the nearly 1,400 students to take part around the state.

The goal is to help students understand the risks and responsibilities of online life while actively preparing them to be safe, self-aware online citizens.

“NetSkills4Life is free and private for everyone,” Criddle said. “You don’t have to register. You don’t have to give us a ton of information. We don’t want it.”

Designed to be light, the curriculum consists of three one-hour lessons per grade level, meaning teachers can easily work them into class time or assign them as homework. Beyond that, Criddle said, the curriculum demands [no technical or safety skills] of teachers, who often feel as overwhelmed by technology as students.

The lessons are built on a game platform, making them interactive and engaging. The idea is to go beyond simple advice, and prompt the student to see potential danger, know how to confront it and then actually do it.

“We are very focused on ensuring that not only do they understand the concepts, but they master the skills they need,” Criddle said. “If you teach kids about bicycle traffic safety awareness and you never teach them how to ride a bike, they are still going to wobble in front of the car, because they don’t have the skills to ride better.”

Competitive imperative

Criddle knows the advantages of responsible online citizenship in a competitive world.  “We are not, as a culture, embracing technology and its opportunities the way we need to,” she said. “U.S. schools are far behind other schools around the world in adopting the Internet, embracing and using it. I frankly believe our competitive advantage is at risk if we do not help schools, families and individuals step up and feel confident.”

“The parent who fails to have their kid fully prepared for the Internet world when they graduate from high school has not succeeded in preparing their children for an adult life,” Criddle said.

Student Stalking or Support – Using GPS to Track Truants

March 29, 2011

Some school districts in California, Texas and Kentucky are using a GPS student tracking and mentoring program called Attendance Improvement Management (AIM).   This service has been steadily gaining schools as clients since 2005 and has made huge fans of some school administrators and judges dealing with chronic truancy cases.

The AIM program has two aspects to helping kids at risk of dropping out or with chronic truancy. The first is mentoring, and there is a body of evidence supporting the benefits of providing additional mentoring to at risk kids.

The second aspect is tracking, by providing each at risk student with a bulky cellphone sized GPS device, and this raises a red flag for me. The ramifications of tracking students’ locations should be very carefully considered before we proceed down this path.

Frankly, I side with those who believe the GPS tracking aspect of this program is an inappropriate way to address school truancy. These kids aren’t violent criminals who represent such a threat to society that a permanently affixed GPS ankle bracelet is a needed safeguard.  If this is an adequate reason for schools to track teens every movement, what’s next?

The company points to their success results and they are impressive, but what isn’t clear is how much can be attributed to the GPS element. See the sidebar about the company’s very hands-on mentoring, and I suspect this much attention from a mentor is the real driver of change. In fact, the company itself says it is the mentoring aspect that is the most important factor in success.

I question the accuracy of results on a GPS device that isn’t firmly affixed to the user. If I had been a truant teen, I’d have just left it with a friend who was at school. If I had to enter a code periodically, the friend would do that too.  If I can figure this out, truant teens are already doing it.

I also am concerned about the motivation of the schools adopting the program. I firmly believe all schools want to help kids succeed, but what came up frequently in the interviews posted on the company’s website, as well as in the company’s own results (see below) is another, very different motivator.


When money is part of an equation about whether we should track our students’ every move, we’re in very murky water.

If the AIM program did not raise school revenues, would they still find it acceptable to trample their student’s privacy by monitoring their locations?

I’m against tracking the location of students at all. But if we somehow got past that hurdle, a host of other questions arise. Who can access that data? What if it’s hacked or abused? These devices track teens location 24/7 not just during school hours – where’s the justification for that?  What if law enforcement wants the information? Or parents? Or…

Just because there is technology to help solve a problem, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to use it. When technology tramples privacy, it’s time to ask hard questions


Talking and Browsing on Phones is Blasé Users Spend More Time on Apps

March 18, 2011

One of the interesting news pieces coming out of last month’s Mobile World Congress was new data from mobile research firm Zokem that shows mobile phone users now spend far more time using applications on their phones than actually talking. When application use is looked at as a whole – combining messaging and other applications – the app usage is now two-and-a-half times greater than voice usage.

Average Minutes of Screen time by type – January 2011
Messaging (email, text, multimedia, and IM) 671 minutes
Apps (maps, gaming, entertainment, productivity, and social networking) 667 minutes
Voice 531 minutes
Browsing the Web 422 minutes

This finding provides further evidence that mobile users – particularly younger users – view of phones has shifted to the point that they now   consider the device in their pocket to be more of a computer than the single-purpose device.

How quickly technology and our expectations change.  It is just over 30 years ago that Bill Gates shared his vision of a computer on every desktop and in every home. My own first PC back in 1980 was a screamingly fast monster with 64K (yes, K) of memory that we didn’t think there would ever be enough data to fill.  I was thrilled with the freedom from typewriters and the new world where you could edit text, shift paragraphs and actually save documents.

And it’s just over 16 years ago that the first commercial phone with paging and voice capabilities were ready for mainstream consumers.  For any of you who had a phone back then, you’ll remember we had to pull out the antennae in order to get a signal, and while those phones were a generation better than the ‘brick’ phones, they were still huge and required a carrying case on your belt.  It wasn’t until 1999 that the mobile web was introduced on phones, and it took until 2000 to get rid of that darn external antenna.  Jump forward to 2003 when the first camera phones really hit the U.S. market (japan had them in 2001), browsing actually began to be interesting, and the U.S. finally realized the handiness of text messaging.  Another hop forward to 2007 brought the first iPhone, and since then applications have been sprouting like mushrooms after a rain.

What new mobile capabilities mean to you and your kids

First and foremost, the new phone functionality means a better mobile experience. It also means more power in your hand, more responsibility to use the device appropriately, and a greater need to protect the phone and the information on the phone.

How do you learn more about teaching kids to use mobile phones safely and in a socially responsible way? I’ve got just the information you need… Check out these blogs:


Operation Rescue Busts Online Pedophile Ring with 70,000 Members

March 16, 2011

Once over-hyped as lurking behind every online contact, then dismissed as statistically insignificant, child sexual predators constitute a very real concern, and they are constantly trolling for new victims.

Nothing highlights this more starkly than the news of what is thought to be the world’s largest Internet pedophile ring that operated behind the online forum called ‘’. The bust of this pedophile ring, which may include up to 70,000 members, was announced today by Europol.

Though investigations are still underway, the news report says, “670 suspects have been identified across the world already, 184 arrests made and 230 children safeguarded. The number of victims safeguarded is the highest ever achieved from this type of investigation, and is set to rise even further in the coming weeks.”

Of those arrested, 5 are known to be US citizens. In the UK, the children exploited were between 7 and 14 years of age, and Australian Federal Police commander Grant Edwards said suspects arrested in Australia ranged in age from 19 to 84.

Called ‘Operation Rescue’, the investigation has been underway for over three years, and Europol has brought together law enforcement agents from 13 countries to track offenders on what the report calls “ a truly global scale”. Participating countries include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

The website, ‘’ has now been taken down. But according to Europol’s press release it “attempted to operate as a ‘discussion–only’ forum where people could share their sexual interest in young boys without committing any specific offences, thus operating ‘below the radar’ of police attention. Having made contact on the site, some members would move to more private channels, such as email, to exchange and share illegal images and films of children being abused. Computers seized from those arrested have harvested huge quantities of child abuse images and videos.”

As sickening as the topic is to most people, it isn’t illegal to talk about abusing children, and a simple search reveals thousands of websites dedicated to ‘boy love’ and ‘girl love’ – thousands more can be found using similar key word searches.  What is interesting however is that a search on Google for ‘boy love’ doesn’t bring back any purchased ad results, while  the search for ‘girl love’ has several – some appear to be positive, others offering contact. It would be interesting to hear Google’s take on their ad policy for key word phrases such as these.

Why this matters to you

With sexting and cyberbullying being the internet risk topics de jour, there hasn’t been much in the way of focus on the ongoing assault youth face from online pedophiles.

Though far more kids get harmed by schoolyard bullies than get hit by cars – we still go to great lengths to teach youth how to look both ways and follow traffic safety rules. This same pragmatism must be applied to online safety issues as well; we cannot fail to address in a careful and thoughtful way the full scope of potential online issues youth may face and this includes sexual predators.

Some internet safety “experts” have all but dismissed the threat of sexual predators online as a rarity that essentially only involves troubled youth, and have advised that efforts should instead focus on areas like bullying that impact a larger number of victims. This is shockingly poor guidance.  This is not an either/or scenario.

While successful sexual exploitation of a minor met through the internet is far less common than many other forms of abuse, it is not a rare outcome. The potentially horrific and life-long consequences of sexual exploitation demand that focus, education and prevention efforts remain a priority for families, schools, and others who teach youth about online safety.

Another common, though unfortunate, observation is that most of the youth who were solicited online were already experiencing trouble in other aspects of their lives. While this is true, it doesn’t present the larger more accurate picture.

Some youth who have fallen victim to online sexual predators were shockingly ‘normal’ with great grades, strong friendships, and popular. Others have been in trouble at home, at school or with the law multiple times. Some are lonely, vulnerable, questioning their own sexuality, unsupervised, or have already been victims of sexual exploitation.

All youth are more vulnerable at some points than they are at others, and predators, including child sexual predators, are constantly probing online and offline for youth who are in one of those vulnerable moments.

It is essential for parents, teachers and caregivers to candidly discuss with kids and teens how to appropriately engage with others, how to reject inappropriate contact, and how to seek help when needed whether the contact is online or offline.

As you discuss online safety with kids and teens, talk about the full breadth of potential threats, teach what youth can do to stay safer and avoid harm, and assure your children that you will give them your total support if problems arise.

This does not mean scaring children, nor does it mean banning youth from using the internet. In fact, banning youth from social networking or other online activities is likely to backfire and lead to deception. It also places youth at an extremely high level of vulnerability as youth who have been told they can’t use these online tools, can’t turn to you if things go wrong.

Actively engage with your child online, understand who they are interacting with, teach social responsibility, family safety and privacy, and be in tune to changes in their behavior that could indicated issues.

We need the ongoing discussions about cyberbullying and self-exploitation through sexting, but we cannot set aside teaching youth about online sexual exploitation, and other potential areas of risk.

To learn more, here are additional blogs on internet sexual exploitation


6 Tips to Identifying the Real Costs of Virtual Goods

March 14, 2011

Though selling virtual goods isn’t new, marketing these items to kids is. Apple has changed their purchasing policy in response to overwhelming outrage by consumers, and federal and state law enforcement bodies. At issue was the lack of clear notice and information that ‘virtual’ purchases cost real money, and the 15-minute policy that said after a password is entered for a purchase on Apple’s IPhones and IPad devices additional purchases could be made without reentering the password.

The idea behind Apple’s previous policy was to allow users to be able to quickly make several purchases without having to enter their password every time, but it did not foresee the in-app purchase confusion this could lead to.

In practice the old policy meant that if a parent bought a game for their child to play, then handed the device over to their child, purchases could be racked up without the parent’s knowledge or consent, and without the child realizing that the charges weren’t in ‘virtual currency’.

After hearing of exorbitant charges facing families whose children had naively purchased items, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office wrote to Apple in December of last year.  The policy change “is a victory for consumers,” said Paula Selis, senior counsel for State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “Our attitude about enforcement is that we are most effective with positive change without litigating, and talk an issue through with a company to affect change.”

McKenna’s office wasn’t the only one to take notice; last month the FTC’s Chairman Jon Leibowitz informed congress that he was looking into Apple’s practices as well as the marketing and delivery of these types of mobile applications. And Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) went so far as to call Apple’s practice deceitful marketing.

Apple isn’t the first company to come under fire for their virtual purchasing policies, nor is this issue a ‘mobile’ problem. Facebook took a beating last fall over ‘Farmville’ an app became hugely popular among users. Kids racked up enormous bills through purchases made on that service as well, sending families into the same kind of purchase shock that Apple’s users now face.

Learn more in my blogs Scamming Users Part of Social Gaming Company Zynga’s business model, Could Facebook Go the Way of MySpace?, and TechCruch’s article Social Games: How the Big Three Make Millions.

Though selling virtual goods isn’t new, marketing these items to kids is

The Smurf’s Village and Farmville have been lightning rod for protests, but the business model of selling games cheaply (or giving them away) and then charging for virtual items within the games or ‘worlds’ is widespread, and far from new.

Back in 2007 when the app-de-jour was Second Life and the buzz was over their “Linden dollars”, companies like Reebok (see example), scrambled to create a presence on the site and market their real products through interactions with consumer’s avatars. What companies discovered however was twofold:

  • While the ‘inhabitants’ of Second Life spent millions of dollars on digital clothes, homes, even perfume (!) for their avatars, they were largely disinterested in using virtual sites to purchase real world products.
  • The tangible tie between Linden dollars and real currency, as well as the lack of kids on the site, largely meant consumers were conscious that they were spending real money for items.

A couple of business model iterations later, the lessons of how to successfully sell things online is much clearer – Virtual goods are best sold in virtual environments while real goods sell best through web versions of real stores.

Game developers have seized this model to make their games enormously profitable – what could be more ideal than making money from digital goods? They don’t cost to ship or store, they aren’t taxed and they don’t rot, and when fashions change, you aren’t stuck with costly inventory.  It turns out that the fable of the Emperors new suit by Hans Christian Andersen was off target; he failed to account for consumer’s desire for entertainment.

The questions that will need answering over the next few months as these issues are fought over are: Did developers deliberately targeted youth with their products? (Given titles like Smurfs’ village, and Farmville it is hard to argue otherwise, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try.)  Did they deliberately sidestep the consumer protections in place for products and advertisements targeting youth? And, do new laws and regulations need to be put in place to better protect consumers of all ages, but youth in particular?

In the meantime, here’s what this means to you and your kids

There is nothing wrong with paying for entertainment as long as you understand all of the potential costs, and herein lies the rub. Consumers of all ages are struggling to see the fully burdened costs of online entertainment, and kids have no skills by which to measure the impact. Until better controls are in place, consider the following possible ‘costs’ before purchasing or downloading a game or service:

  1. Identify any financial costs that may be associated with the application. Your review needs to identify any the up-front costs, as well as potential in-app costs. While these should be clearly understandable, until better business practices are developed, or regulation is set in place, the onus is on you to tread carefully. To date, efforts to increase the transparency around real costs has fallen short – many believe the steps Apple has taken to rectify problems will still not be enough.
  2. Does the company behind the application make money off of you through other means? In addition to the actual costs, will you or your child be exposed to advertising while playing? If so, are the types of ads offered ones you feel are appropriate? Are these marketing techniques ones your child understands and knows how to appropriately evaluate?  Does the company resell user information? This question may be impossible to answer, but many of the largest game brands have been caught doing this – see my blog 10 most popular apps that Facebook’s 500m users play or use to share common interests, have been selling user’s information to outside companies
  3. Look for supervisory tools. These should be built into products and give parents the ability to block or limit any potential costs that minors want to (or are) playing.
  4. Consider the ‘opportunity cost’. We all need downtime and fun-time, but if you or your child is going to use the application, what are you/they NOT going to be doing? Work or homework? Exercising? Getting fresh air? Spending time as a family?
  5. Understand the application’s values, do they benefit or ‘cost’ you? Does the game or other application match your personal values? Is it reinforcing the values you want to instill in your child? Is it creating an instant gratification or impulse purchasing pattern?  How commercial is the game – how much can you do for existing cost vs. how quickly do you need to spend more to keep playing or keep it interesting?
  6. Has the application been tested for malware? Just because an application is offered through a web store does not necessarily mean it has been tested for safety, or that it complies with safety guidelines.  Similarly, the number of users on a site is no guarantee the application is secure. Just last week it was discovered that 21 mobile app games downloadable from the Android Marketplace contained malicious code. See my blog More Mobile Apps Caught Inappropriately Collecting User Info and Installing Malware. Identifying which applications are safe and responsible is no simple matter, so follow these three principles: 1) Only download from sites you trust AND that test applications for malware and policy compliance before allowing them on their marketplace. 2) Research the company behind the application. For example, you should feel very confident about the ethical standards behind products built by well-known companies with sterling brands, but if the application is developed by a company that has previously been found to use unethical or malicious practices, or is unknown, you may want to turn away or tread very cautiously.

Once you’ve worked through the answers to these – and any other concerns you may have – you can make an informed choice.


Take 3 Minutes to Protect children from Slavery and Sex Trafficking

November 13, 2010

An estimated 3,287 children are trafficked around the globe every single day according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF).

To counter this horrific practice, anti-human trafficking organizations around the country are advocating for the passage of the Child Protection Compact Act – critical legislation designed to help protect children in targeted countries from slavery and sex trafficking.

This bipartisan legislation passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously in September, and the bill was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. Though the bill was close to a vote, Congress adjourned for the elections before it came up.

On November 15, Congress will return to Washington, D.C. giving us an opportunity to pass this urgent legislation through the Senate, and the opportunity to get the bill out of committee and through the House.

Donate 3 minutes NOW to help stop the trafficking of children

You can help ensure that this vital legislation is passed by contacting your Member of Congress today to urge him/her to support the Child Protection Compact Act. Then ask your friends to do the same.

This important and innovative legislation has been endorsed by International Justice Mission, World Vision, Amnesty International USA, Freedom House, Not for Sale, the SOLD Project, Polaris, Equality Now and Sojourners.

Together we will make a difference.