This year, it may not just be Santa Claus who sees your kids when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake: one of the hottest trends this season is so-called “smart toys”, which use the Internet to hold artificially intelligent conversations with kids while they play. Last year’s Hello Barbie, one of the first to use this technology, was found to have a number of major security flaws – including automatically connecting the mobile device to which it was tethered to any Wi-Fi network with “Barbie” in its name. Now two more toys, a doll called My Friend Cayla and the i-Que Intelligent Robot, have been found to collect data in ways that are far more worrying.
TV, music and movies have been a central part of young people’s lives for generations, and the Internet has only intensified that by delivering all of those directly to our homes – legally and illegally.
Do young people care about privacy? Participants in MediaSmarts’ 2012 focus groups told us that they valued their privacy highly, despite being enthusiastic participants in platforms and activities that adults see as being about nothing but sharing and broadcasting. Looking at the findings from our Young Canadians in a Wired World survey of more than five thousand students from every province and territory in Canada, we can begin to understand that contradiction: young people may not care that much about what we think of as privacy, but they care very much about control – control over who can see what they post, over who can track them digitally and, most especially, over how other people see them.
For parents of teens and tweens, the Internet can sometimes seem like nothing more than an ever-expanding list of websites to keep up on: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat and so on, with new ones appearing every few months. While the safety risks associated with these mainstream sites are often exaggerated – and it’s more effective to build broader critical thinking skills than to focus on the particulars of kids’ latest favourite sites – there are some websites that present very real and specific risks and that parents are much less likely to know about. These are the so-called “rogue websites” that offer unapproved access to copyrighted content such as music, movies and video games.