In the last year or two many writers and researchers have been trying to correct the common perception that young people do not care about privacy. While the public may finally be getting the message that teenagers do value their privacy – as they define it – the idea that younger children have any personal information worth protecting is still a new one. Certainly, most people would probably be surprised to learn how early children are starting to surf the Net: the average age at which children began to use the Internet dropped from age 10 in 2002 to age four in 2009 (Findahl, Olle, Preschoolers and the Internet, Presented at the EU-kids online conference, London, June 11, 2009); and, thanks to the iPhone and iPad, that number has probably dropped even lower.
The YouTube video “Ultimate Dog Tease” has jumped from 15 million to 37 million views since the beginning of May 2011. The “JK Wedding Entrance Dance” has hit 67 million views since it was launched on YouTube. These two videos have more followers than some TV shows. They’re fun, they’re silly and, like YouTube as a medium, they are worth celebrating.
One of the most famous images of online life is the New Yorker cartoon captioned “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The cartoon, published in 1993, was hugely influential in fixing an image in the public imagination of the Internet as a place where anonymity reigned. It did not take long for that humorous view of anonymity to take on a darker cast, as parents began to fear that Internet predators would use this invisibility to lure their children in the guise of twelve-year-old girls. It’s instructive, though, to realize just how long ago this cartoon was published, and how much the Internet has changed since then.
One of the most unusual things about Internet-based businesses is that few of them try very hard to make money. Of course, with a very few exceptions (such as Wikipedia) making money is certainly in the business plan, or there wouldn’t be all that venture capital floating around, but in general the approach has been to come up with a good product or service first, and only look for ways to make it profitable after it’s acquired a steady clientele. Hugely important and successful ventures like Google, YouTube and Facebook all started out operating at a significant loss. This pattern continues today: it’s already hard to imagine the Internet without Twitter, but so far that service isn’t earning its makers much money (though you can be sure they’re looking for ways to do that.)