Tag Archives: Privacy

Privacy Irrelevance?

Another season and another Digital Hollywood ended yesterday and is officially in the books. While there were a couple of recurring themes – social, Netflix, Big Data, social and social – one of the larger “Eureka” moments was the clarity on the idea that debates on privacy and social or browsing are somewhat irrelevant. It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that conversation will come to Privacy when discussing Big Data and the growing opportunity to gain insights from the many bits of data collected on every one of us.  One stat bandied about was that most adults already have amassed 2-3 Terra-bytes of data and will continue to drive 1TB for every year forward.  When you think about that on its own – along with the omnipresence of tracking-enabled products from entities such as Google, Microsoft and others – there is more than enough reason for people to have a growing concern. But, when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, those concerns of relevant to the invasion of personal privacy might not be what they seem.

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There are a few elements to consider when determining how concerned we should be about Privacy:
– The make-up of the data packs,
– The proper use of that data,
– User Differences by Generation,
– and what should be done to protect ourselves.

Before getting into details, the company line across the board is that security of data is of the utmost importance. But, as we’ve seen, that accounts for little to those who really want to breach security – just ask the US Veteran’s Administration, credit card providers and, just last week, Living Social (whose data was breached to the tune of 50K users’ information.) In all of these examples, None of these examples are tied specifically to social activity, or browsing history, or targeted advertising. When the politicians or privacy experts start railing against privacy in big data for use in targeted media, remember that.

The Data Packs

Those TB of data per person mentioned above is a LOT to parse through on an individual basis. It’s effectively counterproductive to draw up pictures of individuals for targeted media as it’s too much work to get to the numbers you need for an effective campaign. In the case of Big Data, the data packs need to be broader in order to be effective. Could some government look to use the specific data for nefarious or “1984-ian” means? Sure.  But remember, credit card companies have effectively had more telling data on us over the past  40 years.

The Proper Use of Data

When you poll most people about their use of the web and mobile, the majority will say they are sick of ads that have no relevance to them.  As those data packs come into play for more targeted media plans, people will receive content and advertising that is more aligned with their interests.  As long as that placement is not uncomfortable or “Big Brother” like, most people will find those well targeted pieces beneficial and the content distributors/advertisers will appreciate their optimized impressions.

Generational Differences

The general perception of the older generation about the younger one is that of disbelief about what people are sharing about themselves. A simplified perspective on the difference in generations is found when looking at mobile; the Brick phone (Motorola DynaTAC 8000X) was introduced 30 years ago and mobile phones that were cheap enough and small enough to sort-of fit in pockets were introduced 20 years ago. Those who are in college or just graduating high school have never been bound to their homes in order to communicate with others who were far away. That difference is just one of many leading to a completely different consideration of privacy.  In fact, ever since any one of us got our first mobile phone (or credit card, for that matter), we should have been concerned about privacy for that matter.

Which brings us to the second part of this element and leads to the next one. What do we care to share and what don’t we?  The beauty is that each platform provides the choice of participation and security settings. The sad part is that some make it harder to refine security settings than others. It comes down to personal consideration of how much benefit one can derive from the information they are sharing. And, looking into the future, everyone needs to consider what they can stand to have on on the internet in perpetuity.

Many older generations question youth (Millennials) and what they share, but shortchange youth on their social intelligence and savvy. As these mediums are ones that they’ve never lived without, they intrinsically have a better beat on how to get around things.  That could be in the platforms they use. Or, the act of children leaving their mobile phones at a friend’s house during a “sleepover” while they head out to have fun. Or, self censoring what they share and how they share it.  In all cases, young and old, we can’t really control who we share it with. Leading us to…

Protecting Ourselves

Just as we wouldn’t step into the street without looking both ways, we shouldn’t be interacting via digital platforms without recognizing where we’re going.  And, just as we can’t decide not to cross the street just to alleviate risk, we can’t disconnect from all devices and still hope to remain connected and vibrant.

Marketplace Tech from American Public Media ran a segment this morning that illustrated exactly what we can learn from the younger generation (listen to the audio as it is not in the text.) While most of Jeremy Hobson’s interview with New Jersey high school students focus on the platforms they use and why, they do end with suggestions for “their parents.” Those suggestions convey exactly how this younger generation understands exactly what the long-term effects of sharing and data are.

That request is that parents need to consider what images they post of their kids as there could be nothing more mortifying than seeing images of yourself as a child on a beach popping up when you are 17.

In the end, the concerns about privacy in the era of Big Data are effectively moot as that ship has already sailed. As systems and algorithms are refined, people (or users) will find content served up to them where they will consider seeing irrelevant content to be as annoying as being tied to the home phone or digging around for coins to feed the payphone.

All through time, the conveyance of personal information has been a personal decision.  Those who want to be more secretive work hard to do so.  Those who don’t care, don’t. The only thing that has really changed might be what people consider to be truly personal information and how that information is used.

In the past, we didn’t have the bandwidth to parse that information to target at scale. Now we do.  There are certain sensitivities we have to be conscious of, but as the interview with the high school students shows, those concerns about data privacy are becoming less and less relevant.

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Packaging And What Nots

Just a few quick hits…

SOUP & WARHOL

Campbell’s Soup is effectively double-dipping into the oeuvre of Warhol’s “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans” by trying to generate a buzz about the pieces of art that were created 50 years ago.  They have released four limited edition cans in Target Stores commemorating the release of those prints in a gallery. What once might have caused some members of counsel to put in long hours to determine whether  Warhol’s depiction of the soup was legal has now been turned on end in the attempt to generate excitement where there may have not been some otherwise.

I don’t even believe that Campbell’s believes it will have that big of an effect on their bottom line – as reported in this Newser piece – but they can’t be blamed for going all out on this opportunity to get themselves out there.  In addition to the products in Target stores, they have created a Facebook page to allow fans some type of 15 minutes of fame, and they are also sponsoring MOMA’s “Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years” exhibition that opens on September 18th.

Interesting that Campbell’s had to get approval from the Warhol foundation to create the special edition cans…

ARE WE READY FOR SQUARE BOTTLES?

Still on the packaging path, there was coverage about a prototype that will surely cause many beer drinkers to pose the proverbial, “huh?”

Are beer drinkers ready for a bottle that’s not really a bottle?  Will they care that packaging will enable more cost-effective shipping? And, will people want to look like kids with alternate versions of juice boxes in their hand as they pound them down?

The Heineken Cube concept, designed by Petit Romain. (Petit Romain)

This prototype by French company, Petit Romain, offers that opportunity.  Who knows when we’ll see the format hit our shelves?  Maybe it will be in limited quantities – like the soup above – but will it be used for more than a try?  I don’t know how a bottle opener is going to work, or how my nose is going to feel mashed up on my last swig.  I give them props for looking at packaging alternatives and hooking coverage by outlets like the Los Angeles Times

LASTLY, WHAT NOT TO DO…

When I read about Walmart’s plan to accentuate the price difference with their competitors, I was confused because it seems like such a late date to roll out April Fool’s jokes. As mobile options to check around for lowest prices in a matter of seconds, I was taken aback by Walmart’s planned service to receive emails from consumers and send back an email in a few days to alert the consumer how much they could have saved.

Perhaps it is pure genius, but it is more likely a reflection of what Walmart thinks of its customers.  They obviously feel that their consumer would not be privy to the newest technology and would be OK with waiting a few days to see if the prices received were, in fact, the lowest. available.

What concerned me the most was that their customers might be so willing to bring personal information to Walmart’s door.  A company’s offer of a loyalty program as a way to generate knowledge about their consumers is one thing.  To create something that aggregates shopping information about a consumer’s shopping at all stores seems a little duplicitous.  Whether they can provide a value to the consumer in lower prices for the next time they shop is fine, but they must be doing it for the bigger “get” of finding out more about their consumers than perhaps they should.

Walmart will rightfully never share how many people participate in this low-tech  offering, but the implications could be big if a larger amount of people participate.  Hopefully, they are smart and sharp enough to not participate – trusting other resources or their own noggins to get the best pricing without giving up their personal preferences and habits.

Why Is It So Hard To Opt-Out Of History Repeating Itself?

Following on yesterday’s entry about Facebook’s Timeline and that old adage of history repeating itself, I feel like I am back in the end of the 20th century when it comes to assumptions and inconveniences laid before online and mobile users.  While much debate and consideration of best practices led to companies switching to Opt-In rather than Opt-Out, it seems like there’s an entirely new paradigm shift – or pendulum swing – back to requiring users to Opt-Out. 

Facebook has determined that users must effectively Opt-Out by changing their privacy settings to control how much information is shared via the Timeline feature.  Netflix is pushing on Capitol Hill  for a change in a law that would enable them to post what movies and videos people have viewed on Facebook, much the same way Spotify now does with songs heard through the Facebook App.  For whatever reasons, more and more companies seem to be deciding that they know what’s best for users when it comes to sharing their own information.

Unfortunately, the issue persists even for those who had already effectively opted out.  Such an example is shown in the fact that I had set very stringent privacy settings on my Facebook account a few years ago regarding what people could see about my activities.  Since then, I’ve been confident that those bits were handled the same way only to find that something I had blocked to others is showing up.  I was quite bothered last night when my wife mentioned an update on her wall about me that I had thought was not being shared.  The information that was posted was not a biggie, but it exemplified how users may not know exactly what is shared – even if they thought they knew and tried to block it once before.

I can understand how companies would rather make it Opt-Out for participation and marketing reasons.  But, when will it ultimately come back to hurt both the companies and the users in real ways? There are a plethora of activities that skirt with personal information where assumptions are made that the user would rather share such information purely for convenience. Those bits of personal information can come back to harm the user – perhaps in ways we can’t even fathom at this time – and that harm could lead to suits that affect the companies’ bottom line.

In dissecting the discussion surrounding the House’s proposed amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act and the Senate’s consideration of it, VentureBeat focuses on the act of bringing the permissions for sharing movie information more in line with what is already allowed with music, television or radio/webcasts.  Those accept one-time allowances to govern all future activities and can certainly be a convenience for those who want it. The argument presumes that it opens the law just for the matter of sharing viewing activity for social and promotional activity, but the problem – in regard to the original VPPA – is that it would soften the original intent of the law and open it up to abuse.

Ultimately, my problem is only partially limited to the debate about the intricacies surrounding what’s going on with lawmakers and more about the suppositions of companies that users rely on as instruments and outlets for sharing the details of their lives.  It is about the leap companies sometimes make to go from allowing users to share what they want to under their specific control each time to setting that sharing as the default because they feel the user would benefit by convenience – or the fact that the user might not know any better.  As far as I’m concerned, if the user doesn’t want something to be shared or doesn’t fully understand what they are sharing, then it should not be a challenge to keep those items from being shared. There are still huge amounts of users that want to flaunt what they do.  And, if by requiring users to initiate every share rather than automating, wouldn’t that effectively make each share or post worth that much more?

We have already seen people use their right to just not use a product due to these issues with one glaring recent one being the Spotify App.  The feedback I have heard most is that people don’t want to use it – no matter how convenient – because they don’t feel the need to share every song.  I limit how much I use Facebook because I want to limit how much is shared – and even then, more info is shared than I thought.

We are in the midst of one of the fastest-growing and world-changing mediums of all time.  Even the idea of “Ancient” history in this environment is measured in decades – not centuries – but we are already seeing history repeat itself in the practices that we thought were already played out. It’s a shame that the mistakes will only become more magnified as government and the courts get further involved and regulation becomes the barrier to growth rather than the economy.

There are still actions that are being worked through the court systems related to Opt-Out issues from over a decade ago and both Facebook and Netflix are already involved in suits related to the VPPA (among others). If Opt-In is not required and Opt-Out is confusing, hard to find or inconsistent, it points to many legal challenges and real digital growth hinderance in the future. Let’s be smart and learn from history rather than seeing it come back to haunt us.

Facebook Is Rearranging the Bar in the Move to Timeline

Can you imagine if your favorite local store, restaurant or bar were to go through an overhaul each year?  They might have the same items, but decide to change the entire layout of the place. Or, they maintain the design and change from a breakfast-all-day place to sandwiches only.  Perhaps they decide that they will make people enter from a different location each time. Better yet, when you step up to the bar, you have to do a different set of hand gestures each time before ordering your second drink. Now, compound that with the idea that as each change comes, you become treated less as a regular and start to question whether you should go there in the first place.  If such changes would surely hurt businesses in the real world, why are they becoming such a big part of our digital world? The largest example of the phenomenon is  in Facebook effectively changing the seating arrangement, the menu and the ordering procedure through the coming weeks with their Timeline product.

Facebook’s shift to Timeline is a major one that will be mandatory.  We’ve been waiting for it since the F8 conference a few months ago and now its hitting accounts.  Some people have it and like it, while others have no sign of it in their account.  Even the way they are rolling it out is different that their practices in the past as they usually just seemingly “press a button” every few weeks to push site changes live immediately.  One has to imagine that they are doing a progressive rollout for a reason – could it be to help people prepare?

At this point, it is almost becoming more daunting to users the longer it takes to hit accounts.  There’s huge issues raised about privacy and how the timeline features could affect users in both personal and professional matters. Having not received the update, I can’t even follow these directions for changing the Privacy Settings yet.

Even with the ability to change settings, there is a lot of concern voiced by users. The security firm Sophos polled over 4000 users to get their thoughts and the response is overwhelmingly cautious with 51% saying they are worried about Timeline, 32% even questioning why they are still on Facebook and less than 8% stating they like it. 

The concerns run the gamut from worries about identity thieves more easily finding information to the fact that even we don’t remember everything we’ve put on Facebook.  I know that I have been concerned about privacy since the get-go, but I am equally sure that I am likely to see some things I probably would not like to have had up there.  Imagine what users who posted regularly as college students and now find themselves all grown up will see.

Add to this, the fact that users will have only seven days to change all of their settings once their sites are switched over – whenever that may be – and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of customer loss.  If I’m no longer a regular visitor to my Facebook page recently, you better believe that I’m checking it out every day now to see if the switch has been flipped.  Hell, it might actually up their user activity numbers in the coming weeks – which would look nice for their mythically pending IPO.

This is not to say that change should not occur, but consistency is key.  With the advances in technology, the ability to constantly upgrade and change is exciting and enticing, but is it always best? We’ve found in traditional businesses, change takes a lot of preparation.  More digital companies need to take that to heart.

One instance of a brick and mortar changing in a way that is similar to Facebook is hopefully not a sign of what’s to come for Facebook… A local family restaurant, Nichols, has been in Marina Del Rey, CA for decades.  The menu contained everything you could want from a glorified greasy spoon diner and they were always filled. Last Spring, they closed for a couple of months to get a facelift – which made sense as the fittings were dated. There was a lot of excitement about the re-opening.  As far as the customers knew, the only thing changing was the decor and the addition of “J.” before Nichols.  When the place finally re-opened in December, the menu had completely changed, shortened and none of the old staff were there. Sadly, there is never a line to get in and you drive by to see the place empty.  My only hope is that they figure things out and maybe add back a lot of the family friendly food that was on the old menu.

It’s not a bad thing to change, but it has to be done smartly.  It is one thing to change a store or a restaurant that might have a total of 10,000 customers, but to change the confines of a community of over 800MM is another deal entirely.  Even if the site or app reaches a much smaller community, the UI is not something that can be tweaked easily and often – regardless of the company’s technical prowess.

I don’t believe that Facebook is doing anything wrong by making this drastic change, per-se.  It’s just that the online equivalent of one of our favorite high-street shops is changing itself considerably when there was already a questioning client base.  It may end up being a source of lessons for other companies both traditional and digital when they look to make a whole change just because they can.

Digging Under The Shady Surface of Tracking IQ

In what is most likely just the tip of the iceberg, last week saw some serious drama play itself out between a mobile tracking company, Carrier IQ, and a security researcher, Trevor Eckhart.  The software is used by a number of mobile carriers on a number of mobile phones to track information that the company says help the manufacturers and carriers refine their products.  The bad thing is that most consumers have no idea what it is – and because it is tremendously hard to remove the program, its purposes and “spying” or tracking ability makes it that much scarier. It truly poses the question of whether consumers should know what they are getting into with technology or not. What really stinks is when the consumer is not given the choice to opt-out.

Added to the elevated concerns about privacy is the questionable tactics Carrier IQ took after Eckhart originally posted his findings under the name TrevE.  He was served with a Cease and Desist order from Carrier IQ and the threat of a lawsuit. Perhaps they could have learned from Forever21’s misfortunes of legal responses and the negative implications they caused in the social stratosphere.

Just using YouTube as non-scientific barometer is quite telling about how big of a hit Carrier IQ (and possibly the carriers and manufacturers) is taking. The video Eckart posted has received over 1.5 million views, but anything the company has posted in response has earned views that are miniscule in comparison.  Even the follow-up videos by other outlets announcing both the subsequent cease and desist and the ultimate apology garnered more views than the company’s response.  Adding insult to injury, an edited mashup of the company’s response video is getting up there in views.

Now, there is buzz about this around the world and the US government has gotten involved – with Senator Al Franken calling for the same answers the general public is asking for.Whether or not there is anything malicious or unethical in the program and its findings, the fact that the information is being tracked even in relatively unconnected phones and the difficulties in removing the program or just opting out is quite disturbing.  Working in the technology business, Carrier IQ should have been ahead of the curve both on the PR side as well as in the option to opt-out.  To have a force quit button that does nothing is unacceptable.

Quite honestly, I had seen the App listed in my phone as HTC IQAgent when I was trying to figure out why my phone is saying it’s always at capacity.  Perhaps I stupidly trusted it because it had the name HTC in front of it.  The whole event causes me to trust HTC even less.  I wish I knew what HTC programs were truly for my benefit and which were not.  Perhaps it is time to switch to another model and even another carrier. If HTC really wanted to see what issues I was having, they could contact me and allow me to tell them what the problem is.  At this point, I don’t believe that the program is just there to help fix issues automatically without bothering us as the stickiness, battery and storage issues I have been having for months still occur. 

I do not plan to drop my phone in water as some YouTube vides suggest, but I definitely have more questions that I want answered and Eckhart’s 4 questions at the end of his video really only touch the surface. The time for arrogance by technologists and companies when it comes to privacy and tracking has got to be curbed – or those scary things we saw in movies and wrote them off as science fiction will become all too real…

C’Mon Now! Are We Really That Dense To Take This Path?

Sometimes, something so cool is handled in such a way that it just feels so wrong.  On Black Friday, two malls – one in California and one in Virginia – ran a test using a new product from Path Intelligence.  The product, FootPath, enables tracking of people and tendencies in a physical location to better understand what might make them enter one store over another.  In ways, it is the real-world equivalent of the cookies and other tracking mechanics that have been used online for quite a while.  It all sounds great until you realize that in order to opt-out of the program, you must turn off your mobile phone.  Are you kidding me?  Did the mall operators and Path Intelligence (the product’s developers) really think that would be OK?  By making this boneheaded assumption, it has changed the campaign from an interesting pilot to a fiasco.

Sen. Charles Schumer has gotten involved and raised a stink about it – and he doesn’t represent either of the States where the test is taking place!  Mall operators have got to know that the mobile phone is a way for families to keep in touch in their malls in the least and their center of communication at the most.  Why would they think the option of turning off the phone is OK.  The only thing I can figure is that they assumed people would either not notice or not care.  It is assumptions like this that will cause much more regulation and dampen development of tools to help businesses and the economy alike.

Path Intelligence had to know this would be an issue.  They’re based in the UK – where privacy concerns are even more prudent than in the States.  Is that why they ran the test in the States, because they knew there was not a chance that they could get by without being slammed in Europe?  What about the tracking of minors?  In the States, mobile phones are effectively what walkie-talkies used to be for kids to keep in contact with parents.  By blindly tracking them, did Path and the mall operators make the conscious decision that they wouldn’t care about the age of the consumer? It doesn’t matter how vague the information is that you are tracking, people don’t like being tracked – you can’t hide behind levels of privacy – you are either tracking or your not.  Own up to it.

Image of Warning Sign on mall map. Courtesy of Forest City

It all really stinks.  They took an interesting technology execution and shot themselves in the foot.  Had they taken the time to really think it through, they probably wouldn’t have to deal with the mess they have gotten themselves into.  The Temecula Mall operators have provided a mea culpa of sorts and have additionally given Senator Schumer control (and a platform) of something that he has questionable reason to be involved in.

Of course Path and the mall operators realized they had very little chance of success if they asked people to opt-in (or they were just too smug to think that should be an otion.)  With proper thinking and planning, there could have been strong programming to incentivized participation in this pilot program.  When looking around the mobile environment, there are check-in applications seemingly popping up every other day.  Path should have been offering that option for opt-in – and neither should have thought that turning off a mobile phone is an option.

There are many cool technologies that are looking to see the light of day.  Most of them require some form of faith or trust from one of the parties that what they don’t understand is OK.  That makes it that much more important to present ethical programming so that people/businesses/brands don’t shy away from the new products for fear of being bitten in the ass.  We could go on and on listing out the ways that this thing is crap.

This story has been picked up by outlets as far as the Middle East.  We can’t be thinking of these things as insular tests anymore as any items only spread quickly.  Of course, the players in this test only wish a positive outcome had spread so quickly.  Let’s not hurt ourselves by not thinking through our programs and ensuring as best as possible that we will not do something as un-intelligent as this FootPath pilot program.  We owe it not only to our clients/stakeholders, but to ourselves.

The Hypocritical Conundrum of Media, Marketing and Youth

A mantra among social marketing mavens is Relevancy and Authenticity. The message does not mean a thing if it doesn’t use those elements – and perhaps a few more – to engage or connect with the members of the community.  But what if the community is being joined – rightfully or not – by the youth that might not be old enough to participate in the conversation? Is it OK to just figure media, marketing and messaging should be accessible to kids just because they have more access than ever before to the distribution points? And who is responsible for those viewers? A recently released study sponsored by Microsoft and a few universities point to the challenges of determining responsibility.

The focus of the study’s report was on parents’ involvement in allowing under-aged children to lie in order to get around Facebook’s ban of users under the age of 13.  The delineation of 13 is based on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that was enacted in 1998.  COPPA sets regulations for commercial websites regarding serving information to users under the age of 13 and the collection of data.  Effectively, it requires the consent of parents for any child under the age of 13 with screening mechanisms in place.  At the time the US Act was passed, it is questionable whether anyone envisioned the type of information that would be collected in the future via sites like Facebook.  In the report, you can see the high level of parents who either knew their child was active on Facebook or even helped set up their account by lying about their age.

This could be a problem for companies if they knew that kids under age were using their sites without the proper precautions, but the fact that kids (and/or parents) are lying about it does remove some culpability from the owners of those sites.  It just brings the question of what is right and what controls should be in place when it comes to access for the youth of today.

There are certainly many outlets for children to access secure, relevant and authentic content.  Perhaps the content and interaction on those outlets are presented in a “social” way, but the fundamentals of social engagement seem better learned through real-life engagements. In the case of social media, is access best served to kids who have not even gotten the fundamentals of social behaviour crystalized? It would be easy to state that it should be up to the parents, if only the parents could really be held accountable.  As we know, parents are not always able to educate, guide or safeguard children in all instances – regardless of intent, concern or compassion. It is questionable whether parents (or the entire public for that matter) understand or recognize exactly how much private information can be gleaned from the internet quickly and easily, so to expect that they would govern their children’s online use based on that might be expecting too much.

The following passage from the report “Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age” authored by Danah Boyd, Eszther Hargittai, Jason Schultz and John Palfrey relates to children under 13 accessing the Facebook site.

The bottom line, however, is that youth under 13 appear to be on Facebook in large numbers. And while Facebook takes steps to remove underage users, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated at a talk on education that Facebook only imposes the under–13 prohibition because of COPPA’s restrictions (Lev–Ram, 2011). He argued that younger children should be allowed to get on Facebook because doing so is an important part of the educational process. With regard to COPPA, Zuckerberg stated, “That will be a fight we take on at some point” (Lev–Ram, 2011).

There is a problem with just deciding something is good for children because it is “part of the educational process.”  Just as we wouldn’t let children walk about town at night alone to learn what happens outside of the home after dark, why would we do the same here? While there are absolutely huge differences in the examples, the core is the same – just because its educational, doesn’t mean its right.

We joke that the paperwork and security checks are more daunting in order to adopt a dog from the ASPCA than it is to have a baby of your own. Or, more to the point of this post, there is a more challenging test to see if we are fit to drive a car than there is to see if we are fit to raise a child – of course there is none for the latter.

That is what makes this entire concept of access for youth even harder to get our arms around.  Most parents would want to believe their children are mature enough and more ready for access to sites like Facebook. Yet they have no way of keeping tabs on the situation or even being sure what their children might come across – much less educate them on the granular details of what they can come across on social networking sites.  Will the “Birds and the Bees” conversation be evolving in the 21st century to cover social networking as well?

There is a balance between too much regulation or restriction and the access and opportunity to make our own choices that we fight for as a community.  Hence, we have a conundrum because we have to recognize that we still need to protect our children (and I believe there should be protection in place even for those between 13 and 18) while still providing all opportunities for them to safely experience things.

When COPPA was devised, it was meant to ensure that information was not gathered on children under 13 and a byproduct was that they would be able to interact with on those sites with age-relevant content.  Back then, the communication was much more heavily directed at the user – with much fewer opportunities for user-generated content to be a part or the core of the content mix.  As we all know, the playing field has shifted. Responsibility needs to be assumed by all, but with a heavy weight on the parents. 

For those 7 of 10 parents who opened a Facebook account for their under-age children, let’s hope that they take responsibility for the “educational process” and not blame it on the companies maintaining those training grounds.  As for the companies – specifically Facebook – if we are going to fight to ensure access and less regulation, let’s really focus on meaningful education of both parents and children on privacy and social participation to ensure that the best choices for individuals are truly being taken.

Surely, the convergence of Media, Marketing and Youth and the speed at which that is evolving leaves us fully engaged in an “educational process” that has no end.