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CES Musings from a Mom & Internet Safety Advocate

By Lynette T. Owens

The 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in Las Vegas Convention Center this past January 6-9 and showcased everything from cars and robotic vacuum cleaners to holographic displays and advances in environmentally-friendly technology.  It hosts numerous celebrities endorsing them and is characterized by vendor displays with as much lighting, drama, and sound to rival the city hosting it.  I arrived, ready to partake in the Internet Safety Symposium, with a group of panelists I looked forward to meeting.  I left with mixed feelings.  It was like I had just had a tiny glimpse into the future – who needs to buy a 3D television that burdens you to wear glasses when the holographic projection of your favorite television show in the middle of your living room was possible in the near future?

By all accounts, this year’s show broke many attendance records: 140,000 attendees, 30,000 from outside the U.S., 2,700 companies exhibiting, and 22 well-known CEOs presenting over the 4 days in Las Vegas.  Yet even with all of the glitz, hype and self-congratulation everywhere, I felt an uncertainty of how much some of these new advances would change the way we live accompanied by a sinking feeling that nobody really cared about how much it might impact our kids.

I am not saying that technology for kids and families is not showcased at CES, thanks to Living in Digital Times, a tradeshow within the CES tradeshow.  There were some great services such as Neer, a free GPS location-sharing mobile application designed specifically with families in mind and Eye-Fi, a product that allows you to download pictures and videos from your camera to your PC wirelessly and automatically.  But this section of the show floor was dwarfed by the manufacturers of video games, PCs, televisions, smart phones, tablets, projectors, and automobiles.  Most of which were internet-connected, and very few (with PCs as the primary exception) that had given thought to how kids might use these devices.

I spoke to a representative from a major manufacturing company (whom I won’t name, as it was not this person’s fault), and asked if the internet-connected device he was showcasing had some basic Internet safety features, such as parental controls, to prevent kids from accessing sites they shouldn’t.  It seemed an obvious feature to include for a product that millions of parents would buy at some point.  The response?  “It has been requested, and I believe it is planned for the future.”  I then proceeded to visit competitors of this vendor, and one after the other told me the same.  “No, we don’t provide that feature, but it’s a good idea.”  Stunning.  I didn’t even go down the security path, as I assumed there had not been any forethought given to it in the product’s planning.

For those of you who are early adopters of consumer technology that kids (your own, someone else’s, or your students if you’re a teacher) will have access to, the only advice I can impart is to think about where and when they will use it, to supervise them while they’re using it (particularly the younger ones), and to advise them of what is or isn’t ok for them to do while they are online (for all ages).

Or you can wait to buy such products until these companies finally catch up to the reality of modern parenting. 

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Tags :educationinternet safetykidsonline safetyparental controlsprivacyteenswebsite filters

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