Entries Tagged "children"

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Dumb Risk of the Day

Geotagged images of children:

Joanne Kuzma of the University of Worcester, England, has analyzed photos that clearly show children’s faces on the photo sharing site Flickr. She found that a significant proportion of those analyzed were geotagged and a large number of those were associated with 50 of the more expensive residential zip codes in the USA.

The location information could possibly be used to locate a child’s home or other location based on information publicly available on Flickr,” explains Kuzma. “Publishing geolocation data raises concerns about privacy and security of children when such personalized information is available to internet users who may have dubious reasons for accessing this data.”

It’s children, though, so it’s going to be hard to have a rational risk discussion about this topic.

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 1:11 PMView Comments

Underage Children on Facebook

Interesting research on how parents help their children lie about their age to get onto Facebook.

One reaction to our data might be that companies should not be allowed to restrict access to children on their sites. Unfortunately, getting the parental permission required by COPPA is technologically difficult, financially costly, and ethically problematic. Sites that target children take on this challenge, but often by excluding children whose parents lack resources to pay for the service, those who lack credit cards, and those who refuse to provide extra data about their children in order to offer permission. The situation is even more complicated for children who are in abusive households, have absentee parents, or regularly experience shifts in guardianship. General-purpose sites, including communication platforms like Gmail and Skype and social media services like Facebook and Twitter, generally prefer to avoid the social, technical, economic, and free speech complications involved.

While there is merit to thinking about how to strengthen parent permission structures, focusing on this obscures the issues that COPPA is intended to address: data privacy and online safety. COPPA predates the rise of social media. Its architects never imagined a world where people would share massive quantities of data as a central part of participation. It no longer makes sense to focus on how data are collected; we must instead question how those data are used. Furthermore, while children may be an especially vulnerable population, they are not the only vulnerable population. Most adults have little sense of how their data are being stored, shared, and sold.

COPPA is a well-intentioned piece of legislation with unintended consequences for parents, educators, and the public writ large. It has stifled innovation for sites focused on children and its implementations have made parenting more challenging. Our data clearly show that parents are concerned about privacy and online safety. Many want the government to help, but they don’t want solutions that unintentionally restrict their children’s access. Instead, they want guidance and recommendations to help them make informed decisions. Parents often want their children to learn how to be responsible digital citizens. Allowing them access is often the first step.

Here’s the journal article. And some media coverage.

Posted on November 3, 2011 at 7:03 AMView Comments

Burglars Tip Off Police About Bigger Crime

I find this fascinating:

A central California man has been arrested for possession of child pornography, thanks to a tip from burglars who robbed the man’s property, authorities said.

I am reminded of the UK story of a burglar finding some military secrets on a laptop — or perhaps a USB drive — that he stole, and returning them with a comment that was something like: “I’m a crook; I’m not a bloody traitor.”

Posted on October 14, 2011 at 12:34 PMView Comments

Revenge Effects of Too-Safe Playground Equipment

Sometimes too much security isn’t good.

After observing children on playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, Dr. Sandseter identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling), and wandering alone away from adult supervision. The most common is climbing heights.

“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”

[…]

By gradually exposing themselves to more and more dangers on the playground, children are using the same habituation techniques developed by therapists to help adults conquer phobias, according to Dr. Sandseter and a fellow psychologist, Leif Kennair, of the Norwegian University for Science and Technology.

“Risky play mirrors effective cognitive behavioral therapy of anxiety,” they write in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, concluding that this “anti-phobic effect” helps explain the evolution of children’s fondness for thrill-seeking. While a youthful zest for exploring heights might not seem adaptive — why would natural selection favor children who risk death before they have a chance to reproduce? — the dangers seemed to be outweighed by the benefits of conquering fear and developing a sense of mastery.

Posted on July 25, 2011 at 1:06 PMView Comments

CRB Check Backlash

Against stupid CRB checks:

Last January, Annabel Hayter, chairwoman of Gloucester Cathedral Flower Guild, received an email saying that she and her 60 fellow flower arrangers would have to undergo a CRB check. CRB stands for Criminal Records Bureau, and a CRB check is a time-consuming, sometimes expensive, pretty much always pointless vetting procedure that you must go through if you work with children or “vulnerable adults.” Everybody else had been checked: the “welcomers” at the cathedral door; the cathedral guides; the whole of the cathedral office (though they rarely left their room). The flower guild was all that remained.

The cathedral authorities expected no resistance. Though the increasing demand for ever tighter safety regulation has become one of the biggest blights on Britain today, we are all strangely supine: frightened not to comply. Not so Annabel Hayter. “I am not going to do it,” she said. And her act of rebellion sparked a mini-revolution among the other cathedral flower ladies. In total she received 30 letters from guild members who judged vetting to be either an invasion of privacy (which it certainly is) insecure (the CRB has a frightening tendency to return the wrong results) or unnecessary (they are the least likely paedophiles in the country). Several threatened to resign if forced to undergo it. Thus began the battle of Gloucester Cathedral, between the dean and the flower guild, a battle which is just reaching its final stage as The Spectator goes to press. First the guild asked why the checks were necessary. The answer turned out to be that the flower arrangers shared a toilet with the choirboys, and without checks there would be “paedophiles infiltrating the flower guild.”

I wrote about CRB checks in 2008.

Posted on December 13, 2010 at 6:42 AMView Comments

Halloween and the Irrational Fear of Stranger Danger

From the Wall Street Journal:

Take “stranger danger,” the classic Halloween horror. Even when I was a kid, back in the “Bewitched” and “Brady Bunch” costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.

That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy. (Oh, yes, he concedes, there was once a Texas boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix. But his dad did it for the insurance money. He was executed.)

Anyway, you’d think that word would get out: poisoned candy not happening. But instead, most Halloween articles to this day tell parents to feed children a big meal before they go trick-or-treating, so they won’t be tempted to eat any candy before bringing it home for inspection.

[…]

Then along came new fears. Parents are warned annually not to let their children wear costumes that are too tight—those could seriously restrict breathing! But not too loose either—kids could trip! Fall! Die!

Treating parents like idiots who couldn’t possibly notice that their kid is turning blue or falling on his face might seem like a losing proposition, but it caught on too.

Halloween taught marketers that parents are willing to be warned about anything, no matter how preposterous, and then they’re willing to be sold whatever solutions the market can come up with. Face paint so no mask will obscure a child’s vision. Purell, so no child touches a germ. And the biggest boondoggle of all: an adult-supervised party, so no child encounters anything exciting, er, “dangerous.”

I remember one year when I filled a few Pixie Stix with garlic powder. But that was a long time ago.

EDITED TO ADD (11/2): Interesting essay:

The precise methods of the imaginary Halloween sadist are especially interesting. Apples and home goods occasionally appear in the stories, but the most common culprit is regular candy. This crazed person would purchase candy, open the wrapper, and DO SOMETHING to it, something that would be designed to hurt the unsuspecting child. But also something that would be sufficiently obvious and clumsy that the vigilant parent could spot it (hence the primacy of candy inspection).

The idea that someone, even a greedy child, might consume candies hiding razor blades and needles without noticing seems to strain credulity. And how, exactly, a person might go about coating a jelly bean with arsenic or lacing a molasses chew with Drano has never been clear to me. Yet it is an undisputed fact of Halloween hygiene: Unwrapped candy is the number-one suspect. If Halloween candy is missing a wrapper, or if the wrapper seems loose or flimsy, the candy goes straight into the trash.

Here is where I think we can discover some deeper meanings in the myth of the Halloween sadist. It’s all about the wrappers.

Wrappers are like candy condoms: Safe candy is candy that is covered and sealed. And not just any wrapper will do. Loose, casual, cheap wrappers, the kind of wrappers one might find on locally produced candies or non-brand-name candies, are also liable to send candy to Halloween purgatory. The close, tight factory wrapper says “sealed for your protection.” And the recognized brand name on the wrapper also lends a reassuring aura of corporate responsibility and accountability. It’s a basic axiom of consumer faith: The bigger the brand, the safer the candy.

Ironic, since we know that the most serious food dangers are those that originate from just the kind of large-scale industrial food processing environments that also bring us name-brand, mass-market candies. Salmonella, E. coli, and their bacterial buddies lurking in bagged salads and pre-formed hamburger patties are real food dangers; home-made cookies laced with ground glass are not.

EDITED TO ADD (11/11): Wondermark comments.

Posted on October 31, 2010 at 10:02 AMView Comments

Parental Fears vs. Realities

From NPR:

Based on surveys Barnes collected, the top five worries of parents are, in order:

  1. Kidnapping
  2. School snipers
  3. Terrorists
  4. Dangerous strangers
  5. Drugs

But how do children really get hurt or killed?

  1. Car accidents
  2. Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger)
  3. Abuse
  4. Suicide
  5. Drowning

Why such a big discrepancy between worries and reality? Barnes says parents fixate on rare events because they internalize horrific stories they hear on the news or from a friend without stopping to think about the odds the same thing could happen to their children.

No surprise to any regular reader of this blog.

Posted on September 8, 2010 at 6:06 AMView Comments

Hot Dog Security

A nice dose of risk reality:

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement calling for large-type warning labels on the foods that kids most commonly choke on—grapes, nuts, carrots, candy and public enemy No. 1: the frank. Then the lead author of the report, pediatric emergency room doctor Gary Smith, went one step further.

He called for a redesign of the hot dog.

The reason, he said, is that hot dogs are “high-risk.” But are they? I mean, I certainly diced my share of Oscar Mayers when my kids were younger, but if once in a while we stopped for a hot dog and I gave it to ’em whole, was I really taking a crazy risk?

Here are the facts: About 61 children each year choke to death on food, or one in a million. Of them, 17 percent—or about 10—choke on franks. So now we are talking 1 in 6 million. This is still tragic; the death of any child is. But to call it “high-risk” means we would have to call pretty much all of life “high-risk.” Especially getting in a car! About 1,300 kids younger than 14 die each year as car passengers, compared with 10 a year from hot dogs.

What’s happening is that the concept of “risk” is broadening to encompass almost everything a kid ever does, from running to sitting to sleeping. Literally!

There’s a lot of good stuff on this website about how to raise children without being crazy paranoid. She comments on my worst-case thinking essay, too.

Posted on June 17, 2010 at 2:28 PMView Comments

Fifth Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest Winner

On April 1, I announced the Fifth Annual Movie Plot Threat Contest:

Your task, ye Weavers of Tales, is to create a fable of fairytale suitable for instilling the appropriate level of fear in children so they grow up appreciating all the lords do to protect them.

On May 15, I announced the five semi-finalists. Voting continued through the end of the month, and the winner (improved by the author, with help from blog comments) is:

The Gashlycrumb Terrors, by Laura

A is for anthrax, so deadly and white.
B is for burglars who break in at night.
C is for cars that, with minds of their own,
accelerate suddenly in a school zone.
D is for dynamite lit with a fuse.
E is for everything we have to lose.
F is for foreigners, different and strange.
G is for gangs and the crimes they arrange.
H is for hand lotion, more than three ounces;
pray some brave agent sees it and pounces.
I is for ingenious criminal plans.
J is for jury-rigged pipe-bombs in vans.
K is for kids who would recklessly play
in playgrounds and parks with their friends every day.
L is for lead in our toys and our food.
M is for Mom’s cavalier attitude.
N is for neighbors — you never can tell:
is that a book club or terrorist cell?
O is for ostrich, with head in the sand.
P is for plots to blow up Disneyland.
Q is for those who would question authorities.
R is for radical sects and minorities.
S is for Satanists, who have been seen
giving kids razor blades on Halloween.
T is for terrorists, by definition.
U is for uncensored acts of sedition.
V is for vigilance, our leaders’ tool,
keeping us safe, both at home and at school.
W is for warnings with colors and levels.
X is for x-raying bags at all revels.
Y is for *you*, my dear daughter or son
Z is for Zero! No tolerance! None!

Laura, contact me with your address so I can send you your prize. Anyone interesting in illustrating this, preferably in Edward Gorey’s style, should e-mail me first.

History: The First Movie-Plot Threat Contest rules and winner. The Second Movie-Plot Threat Contest rules, semifinalists, and winner. The Third Movie-Plot Threat Contest rules, semifinalists, and winner. The Fourth Movie-Plot Threat Contest rules and winner.

Posted on June 15, 2010 at 6:02 AMView Comments

Mainstream Cost-Benefit Security Analysis

This essay in The New York Times is refreshingly cogent:

You’ve seen it over and over. At a certain intersection in a certain town, there’ll be an unfortunate accident. A child is hit by a car.

So the public cries out, the town politicians band together, and the next thing you know, they’ve spent $60,000 to install speed bumps, guardrails and a stoplight at that intersection—even if it was clearly a accident, say, a drunk driver, that had nothing to do with the design of the intersection.

I understand the concept; people want to DO something to channel their grief. But rationally, turning that single intersection into a teeming jungle of safety features, while doing nothing for all the other intersections in town, in the state, across the country, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Another essay from the BBC website:

That poses a difficult ethical dilemma: should government decisions about risk reflect the often irrational foibles of the populace or the rational calculations of sober risk assessment? Should our politicians opt for informed paternalism or respect for irrational preferences?

The volcanic ash cloud is a classic case study. Were the government to allow flights to go ahead when the risks were equal to those of road travel, it is almost certain that, over the course of the year, hundreds of people would die in resulting air accidents, since around 2,500 die on the roads each year.

This is politically unimaginable, not for good, rational reasons, but because people are much more risk averse when it comes to plane travel than they are to driving their own cars.

So, in practice, governments do not make fully rational risk assessments. Their calculations are based partly on cost-benefit analyses, and partly on what the public will tolerate.

Posted on June 11, 2010 at 12:08 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.