One online predator per child?

Expert says laptop distribution project underestimates safety concerns.

By Lynn Harris
June 20, 2007 8:38PM (UTC)
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Here's yet another angle on the "One Laptop Per Child" debate -- or, at least, a new point to explore on the "love-worry spectrum" engendered by the project, which aims to provide inexpensive laptops to children around the world as a means of expanding their educational and creative horizons. CNET parenting/technology blog (parent.thesis) recently raised the question of how use of said laptops -- even on local "mesh" networks, likely to go Web-wide in a matter of time -- will be kept safe for children.

"In America, even tech-savvy parents have a hard time monitoring children's safe computer use. We are told not to put a computer in our kids' bedrooms, and not to allow them to use webcams," writes Amy Tiemann, the wife half of the husband-wife blogging team. "What happens when we bring video-enabled, networked laptops into poor communities, where parents may not be able to read, much less understand how to use technology?" Tiemann contacted Internet child-safety expert and self-described "card-carrying geek" Linda Criddle, who told (parent.thesis) that child pornography is one of the "'perfect microbusinesses' waiting to explode if laptops are distributed without proper precautions" -- and that this warning "seems to be falling on deaf ears among industry representatives she has contacted." Says Criddle: "What I have gotten every time, to my utter horror and dismay, is a response like 'Oh gosh, well okay, so we're going to have to think about that, but first we have to get [the machines] out there,' and I'm saying, you had better get the infrastructure in order first, because you are about to do the next version of the powdered milk disaster in Africa."


Criddle, herself no fan of Internet scare-mongering, recommends a comprehensive safety strategy that includes training of law enforcement, children and parents -- beyond, she says, "a rote and nearly useless list of the '10 things to be safe online.'" She supports the central goals of the laptop initiative, but feels that safety guidelines outlined thus far are insufficient, and that a thorough safety framework needs to come with the project, not play catch-up.

Tiemann adds: "This is a tall order, but in a world where economic realities still lead some parents to sell one daughter into sexual servitude in order to feed the rest of the family, we cannot afford to unleash new communication technology without thoroughly considering the consequences."

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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