In July, I wrote an article reviewing the Online Safety and Technology Working Groups (OSTWG) report on the current status of the online safety of children in the U.S. and their recommendations for improving the situation. In summary, their research produced extremely valuable data and their suggestions fell far short of improving anything. At that time I made some suggestions for how we as a nation might make the online world safer for kids. The two primary suggestions I had were:
- Certified "Kid Safe" sites - a single organization (like the OSTWG) comes up with a set of standards and requirements that a website must meet to receive the certification. A company like Google creates a browser that only allows access to these certified sites. Schools and homes install this specialized browser on machines that children use. The federal government legislates steep penalties for organizations that abuse the certification.
- Youth ambassadors/youth credibility - the message of good online citizenship must come from sources that kids view as credible. That means people who know the online world as well as they do and people that aren't viewed by kids as being out of touch with the problems they face. A national curriculum should be created (again OSTWG would be a good source for this) utilizing college age, young adults (much like youth ministers or camp counselors) to deliver the message.
Of course there is much more to this than the summary description I listed above. Read the full article for complete details.
While I still strongly believe these ideas are sound and should be explored on a national level, I don't think either of these solutions would solve problems like the one presented by Facebook. Here are the facts:
- Facebook is unsafe for kids
- Facebook is blatantly uncaring and uninterested in making their site safer for kids
- Kids would still join Facebook despite my "Kid Safe" site certification idea.
I was laying in bed thinking about all of this last night when something occurred to me (bear with me here). In the early 1900's automobiles were the emerging technology in Europe and the U.S.. European government leaders recognized the dangers that these machines zipping around pedestrians and slow moving animals could create. In 1903, Prussian leaders created a set of mandatory tests that drivers had to pass before receiving a certificate of privilege to drive. Included in these requirements was a mandatory age, clear vision and hearing, and a baseline level of intelligence and responsiveness to typical scenarios drivers would face. The driver's license was born and the concept quickly caught on and was adopted by governments all over the world (the first in the U.S. was New York, 1910). Today the emerging technology is cyberspace. Is it time to come up with a license to use it? Maybe so.
Imagine a culture that has embedded the online world into every part of their lives - communication, entertainment, shopping, news and information, banking, business interactions, etc. Realizing the potential danger that abuse of such a system could cause, this culture's leadership comes up with a digital ID much like a driver's license. You receive it when you are born and use it through life to identify and verify yourself when you go online making business and commerce transactions. It would keep you out of harmful sites when you are young and give you more security when you shop and do your banking. OH WAIT...we are that culture...why haven't we looked into developing the digital ID for all citizens? Businesses have been doing it for years. The digital signature is common for verifying digital transactions and verifying data in the corporate world. The technology is there, why not take it to the next level and make a digital identity required just like a birth certificate and social security card?
This concept is nothing new and I certainly didn't invent this idea. Digital visionaries have been kicking the idea around for 20 years. The two big arguments that come up any time the concept of a required, national digital ID are:
- The infrastructure it would require to manage such a system would be huge and expensive - who would assume that responsibility?
- The "Big Brother" potential - people feel that this gives the government too much visibility into our private lives.
Here are my answers to those arguments. First, Social Security is a big system, as is the State driver's license system. But we do it because it's necessary. How long will we keep our head in the sand and not admit that we have progressed to a point where digital ID's are now necessary? Let's also not forget that the federal government is spending billions trying to stimulate new business - grants for anyone to come up with any hair-brained idea they have. Well, this would be a new business wouldn't it? Put some stimulus money toward developing this.
Second, come on...the Big Brother argument is no longer valid. If we as a nation were worried about government visibility into our private lives, we wouldn't be posting every mundane detail of what we do on our social media accounts. Do you really think the government doesn't have visibility into that? When George Orwell's book 1984 came out, it scared people and a huge push for individuality and personal privacy ensued. 60 years later we have willingly sacrificed every shred of our personal privacy in the name of entertainment. What we have done with Facebook and Twitter would scare George Orwell.
Someone has to do something. Our current solutions aren't working. It's time that society wakes up and confronts this problem realistically. What would have happened if our forefathers said "a driver's license is a silly waste of time"? Would you venture out onto the roads knowing there are no minimum safety requirements or accountability for the other drivers around you? No. Then why are we doing it digitally?
So, my new, number 3 item on my list of solutions is personal digital ID's. Let the nay-saying begin.