Evolution of Parent’s Awareness of Internet Risks Infographic

June 26, 2011

A fun new infographic by McAfee titled What Do Pirates, Coffee Pots, and Smiley Faces Have to Do with Kids Online? provides a great overview of how far the internet has come in 40 years, and how each step has brought tremendous new potential along with a few real risks.  The biggest takeaway should be the question of how, knowing what we do, do we incorporate and evolve technologies in a way that integrates consumer safety, privacy, security, and education into the development process.

For all the quantum leaps forward in enabling technology, we have largely failed to stay apace in defending that same technology. The race to be first with cool features meant deprioritizing building safer tools. To show this tradeoff, look at this illustration showing Quality, Time, and Features:

  1. You can cut quality to put in more features faster.
  2. You can improve quality by either taking more time or adding fewer features.
  3. What you can’t do is go faster with more features of high quality.

Given these constraints, and knowing that consumers rant about safety but go with whichever company delivers the cool new features first, it is quality that suffers. Companies skip safety, security & privacy reviews, they cut the safety, security & privacy features, they fail to have employees dedicated to designing and testing for safety, security and privacy, and they shortchange the UI and other education that could have help overcome some of their safety gaps. Then, because support staff is expensive, they cut quality consumer support as well.

Add to this that for the most part we still have feature development in one part of a company, and ‘safety’ in another (often safety, security and privacy are three separate groups just to make matters worse). So the development teams create cool features in a relative vacuum where features and speed always win; and then once the feature is released and the furor starts the safety/security/privacy team’s jump in to push requirements to the development team attempting to retroactively solve/minimize/or create a great PR pitch that doesn’t do anything to actually resolve the problems.

Now, compound this with an understanding that the development teams have already moved on to building the next set of cool features they’re trying to bring to market faster (by cutting quality), and they don’t want to be hampered by security safety and privacy requirements that would make them go back and try to add a sloppy patches to their previous features (the solutions have to be patches because it wasn’t designed to work that way up front, and they’re sloppy because they don’t want to spend time on it) and the result is:

Programs and Services that are easily hacked and data stolen. (Oops, we cut test time for security issues, and those we found we either postponed or decided not to fix.) Policies for acceptable use that aren’t enforced. (Oops, that would have required building abuse tracking, reporting, and moderation tools, but in the need-for-speed those were cut). Safety, security, and privacy functions that are slapped together, building on the previous tier of slapped together functions because no one took time to design for these in the first place. And so on.

Research repeatedly highlights the need for consumers and businesses to trust the internet in order to sustain the continued growth of the internet economy, but that message largely falls on deaf ears.  Why? It’s not because big businesses don’t understand the need for consumer trust and confidence, it’s that these are long-term needs for an enormous industry, and they’re delivering right-now technologies for their own company’s competitive advantage. It’s called passing the buck to earn a buck. Grabbing market share before the confidence collapse requires all companies to take a safety, security and privacy investment. It’s a very poor way to do business, and it’s a very poor way to treat consumers.

This infographic does a good job of showing how one aspect of consumer trust in the internet – that of parents – is eroding.

It’s Internet Safety Month; what are companies going to do to turn this around? What will the meter on this infographic show next year?