Law in the Internet Society

The Unresolvable Dilemma of Christmas Gifting

-- By EungyungEileenChoi - 05 Dec 2019

My daughter's wishlist

Having put all the trick-or-treating and thankfulness behind me, there's still the highlight of this season left - Christmas! For the last couple of years, the one and only item on my 8 year old daughter's wishlist was a smartphone. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I was a lawyer practicing in the area of personal information protection and I just couldn't bring it over my conscience to buy my own daughter a device that would make it possible for others to collect her personal data on a real-time basis and most likely share them with the rest of the world. After receiving rather analogous gifts for three years, she finally seemed to recognize the cruel reality that Santa will not let her have a smartphone for whatever reason it may be. She struck the smartphone from the list and instead, she put on: "Fitbit". Sadly enough, Santa will have to ignore her wishes once again.

But why?

While it is only natural for me to withhold any mobile device from my daughter as long as I can, it seems almost impossible to make her understand why.

I tried it all. "They will collect every bit of information from you - it is not just how many steps you walked. Your pulse, your heart rate, where you went and where you're right now - 24/7, 365." She counters with "Yeah, but who would do that and why?" Behavior targeted marketing seems not to be a concern of hers since she doesn't have any money that she can spend on her own. Behaviorally stimulated electoral decisions? It will be more than a decade until she casts her first vote on anyone. Police or other agencies tracking you down? She doesn't intend to commit any crimes. The only thing I was able to scare her with so far was the hypothetical situation where a hacker could obtain and use the information to kidnap her in order to demand a ransom. However, I really hate to pull that trigger because the story is so terrifying to her that she cannot sleep at night.

But the real difficulty arises from the fact that there are just too many children with mobile devices out there. We moved from South Korea where most first-graders were wearing a "Kid's Phone" - supposedly for the safety of the children and more realistically for the mental comfort of anxious first-time school parents. As my daughter advanced to the second grade, my daughter was the only one in her class without a phone. Even in New York, there are enough iPhones and Fitbits in the classroom for my daughter to question how so many kids actually carry these dangerous things around and nothing ever happens to them. Plus, it is always a pain almost heartbreaking if your child claims that she feels left out because she lacks something that the majority has.

Struggling to be a GOOD mom

Whenever I face a parenting problem, I like to imagine what MY mom would've done. The answer here is rather easy. She would've never bought a smartphone for me. She was always wise enough to keep me from anything that could've distracted me from my studies. I was not even allowed to watch TV dramas as a student - only news and sports games. More importantly, she is capable of resisting when she feels something is wrong even if others don't. As much as I admire my mom, I'm a person with less determination. Also, times have changed. Someday, my daughter will inevitably be exposed to the internet world no matter how hard I try.

Therefore, at first, I was focusing on how to warn and shield my daughter from the evil consequences of the internet. However, after reading "The Second Self", I've gained a little less protective attitude. In this book, Sherry Turckle observes that opposed to the general believes that science-math nerd type boys are the only ones suited for programming, in a setting where unlimited access to the computer is guaranteed as a culture, every child can become as capable a programmer as another by developing and using skills in different ways depending on their own personality. According to Turckle, 'the computer makes the child' not so much as 'the child makes of the computer'. To put it into my words, it is not any use of computers that necessarily spoil children rather, if used properly, computers can contribute to the child's development. My daughter is a very peaceful and creative kid, a 'soft master' as referred to in the book. That's why I had never thought of her as a real computer person and imagined her only with computer games, Instagram, and YouTube? . However, reading the stories about children like Kevin, Anne, and Mary, who resemble my daugther more or less, made me imagine the many wonderful experiences that my daughter could have with the computer and the internet, just like them. So, maybe deterrence is not the only policy nor the best one to pursue. Although, I will still have to figure out how, in practical terms, I will let her use the devices that connect her to the internet so that I can promote the good and minimize the bad.

Also, privacy concerns still hold. Therefore, I will try to keep her aware of the privacy risks and when the time comes for her to own a mobile device, I'll teach her some tricks to protect her privacy such as using a VPN or encryption software. I will also advocate for a regulation that deems the collection of personal data as unacceptable and unconsentable. However, since the current data regulation is centered around consent, this may take a long time. In the meanwhile, current laws should be amended to the effect that users are given the option to track and record their steps and sleeping habits without being forced to surrender their data to the developers or anyone else.


Webs Webs

r5 - 04 Feb 2020 - 05:41:41 - EungyungEileenChoi
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