Should tablets come with content warnings?

The tablet computer topped the Christmas list for children this year. My 7 and 9 year old both asked for an iPad Mini as did many of their friends. I managed to resist, extolling the virtues of the latest hand-held console game and a set of those...

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The tablet computer topped the Christmas list for children this year. My 7 and 9 year old both asked for an iPad Mini as did many of their friends. I managed to resist, extolling the virtues of the latest hand-held console game and a set of those trainers with wheels. My kids face the risk of a broken wrist but at least I have put off the scarier prospect of handing them easy access to violent or explicit behaviour on the web. They can of course still disappear with my iPad, but they have a greater respect for my ground rules when it's not their own.

Many other parents chose to answer their children’s wishes. Unfortunately, too many have yet to understand the impact this can have on their children. Before the holiday season ended, I started to hear stories. The most concerning involves a friend’s four-year-old, who picked up her eight year-old brother’s Mini to have an explicit video jump to life in front of her eyes. Her brother had been watching it for the previous half-hour. Dad had helpfully disabled the parental controls so his son could download the popular app that hosted the video.

Internet safety is now top of mind for many of us in information security as we prepare for Safer Internet Day the first Tuesday of February.  This time, I am worried that progress made with our efforts so far have just taken a huge step backward. The risks haven’t changed overnight, but the probability of exposure has, by an order of thousands and it includes the youngest members of our society. Too few with the responsibility of protecting children really understand this. We in the technology sector have the ability to change this, but is there the will?   

On Safer Internet Day, Feb 11th this year, many (ISC)2 members in the UK will be visiting primary and secondary schools to deliver the (ISC)2 Foundation’s Safe and Secure Online programme. They make the case to their employers to donate to the effort and give them the time to volunteer on the day. Their impact has grown significantly as has the need; so we established the Foundation to back their efforts and actively seek industry support.

Industry will always innovate but it’s important that it also takes responsibility for the risks it creates. In the case of Internet-enabled devices, these risks are well documented; and gaining the attention of government whom we can expect to inevitably turn to regulation to address concerns.  

Could it be time to consider large-print warnings, akin to that of the tobacco industry, on the dangers of disabling parental controls? The government is already issuing public warnings; industry could back up the message on an ongoing basis. Whether it is through this Safe and Secure Online, Safer Internet Day, or something else, the technology sector should expect to be asked to make an obvious effort at ensuring that safety and innovation go hand in hand.      

Lyndsay Turley, EMEA Regional co-ordinator, (ISC)2 Safe and Secure Online

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