Transcript of Monsters under the Bed: U.S. Parents, Fearful of Web’s Dark Side, Hold Kids’ Sites in Low Regard from “Trust or Consequence: The Web’s Reputation at Risk”
Transcript from “Trust or Consequence: The Web’s Reputation at Risk”
- Warren Buckleitner, Editor, Children’s Technology Review
- Janet Sarratt, Co-Chair, Association for Library Service to Children, Great Web Sites Committee
- Lillie Coney, Associate Director, EPIC
- Robin Raskin, Technology Consultant, Author, Spokesperson, and former editor of PC Magazine and FamilyPC
- Linda Bradway, Research Coordinator, MediaTech Foundation
Note: This is an edited transcript of the proceedings.
Warren Buckleitner: We’re going to look at online SAT test prep services, one category of children’s sites – these are older children – where we looked at applying the WebWatch’s criteria. We found that if you just take one section of sites, there is some real ground that needs to be made up in that category.
Basically the key findings are there from the [Princeton Survey Research] survey. Essentially the main take-away is that 86% of the parents out there — and my guess is that that’s, from my instinct, that’s an accurate figure — are confused, and they’re worried about their kids going online. And most parents, as many of us are, we just kind of are hopeful that nothing tough happens.
So what I’d like to do here is get to our panel. But first we’re going to show a video. These are some clips of kids – some of the stuff they’re doing online. I would like the panel to see this, so you guys come forward.
This is my daughter, she’s 10, and this is what she was doing one night.
[Shows series of 3 videos]
Warren Buckleitner (continued): There are no ratings. The kids who are in the MediaTech community lab, where that footage was shot, they go to the sites that are most entertaining. If it was like a buffet, they go to the stuff they like to eat. They’re not really thinking about the stuff that’s good for them or things that they’ll learn something from.
So, anyway, I think that we’re in sort of an electronic drought in terms of quality. The stuff that I actually see kids going to and using online is a rag doll with George Bush. My daughter likes George Bush because he falls through the big balls and bounces. She likes to try to get him sitting on one so he can, she says he’s reading. And then they throw him to the side and they go down.
Is this what technology has come to? I mean, how much did we spend to wire schools with T1 lines so that we could get those rag dolls going on really smooth, ringed by advertisements by who knows what? We’re really in a – this whole thing is messed up, quite frankly.
And so, fortunately, we have some smart people here. We have the American Library Association’s Best Sites for Kids co-editor, Jan, and she is going to talk about some of her criteria for choosing quality sites, and also some sites that are not so quality. We have the Internet Mom, Robin Raskin, who is a former editor of Family PC and has been very involved with Internet issues from the very beginning. She has testified before the FTC and has been to Washington many times on these issues. And so Robin has a whole bunch of stuff to talk about.
And we have Lillie from EPIC Electronic Privacy and Information Center, Lillie Coney. She’s the associate director of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center right here in Washington, which is why you were late. You had the shortest to come. Actually, she just issued a paper on COPPA, the Children’s Online — what’s that?
Lillie Coney: The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Warren Buckleitner: And that is over there. Do you have papers that you are passing out?
Janet Sarratt: I have some on the chair at the back. And if we go into the bad things, I have a second one. But I didn’t put them out, just in case.
Warren Buckleitner: Put those out. We want the bad things. We want everything.
So I’ll let each panelist tell more about what they’re doing. And then Linda Bradway is the coordinator of research at MediaTech. I worked with Linda all summer on this SAT test prep project, and we’re going to show a little bit of a sneak peek at some of the results of that study, which WebWatch will be releasing some time later down the road. But that’s not defined at this point.
With that, Janet, I’ll turn it over to you. What we’re going to do is go right down. If you have questions at any point, throw your hand up, and then we’ll get to it.
Janet Sarratt: I’m coming at this from the educator’s point of view. I am with the children’s division of ALA [American Library Association], and the acronym is ALSC, better known as the Association of Library Services to Children. So we’ll talk about ALSC.
Originally, when the Internet started to be a thing out there, they came up with 700+ Great Sites. And it was on a two-page fold-out, slick copy, and they realized: Oh, things go dead and things change. And they eventually had to do another one, and it evolved into this committee. We have 10 members on it, and it’s rotating. Every year we have people coming on and off, and we come up with a voting cycle that we have three times a year, because with the other, everything kept dying.
So what we do is, three times a year we vote. And you can see our criteria. The Web site is on the paper back there, and it’s a handout that was made by the previous chair that libraries can use to set out, or parents or anybody can set out. You can get some information.
But using this criteria, and in going through this survey, we address these things that are all listed in that survey. And we get nominations; we all nominate. We also – I get anywhere from two to 20 nominations a day. We compile them, and three times a year we vote. And we average maybe 200 sites on a vote, and by the time we’re finished, anywhere from two, to four, to six of them may make our list. So in a way you could say we’re self-regulatory.
We also, twice a year, maintain our sites. We have our site where you can see we have it listed by subject categories. And we have penciled it, so we have age levels. Twice a year we go through here and we pick sites that have not been maintained, sites that have lost some of their authority, sites that are dead, have dead links. There’s one sample, the Anne Frank one. That’s one that’s in our list.
And KnowItAll is a wonderful one that was done through the auspices of South Carolina Educational Television. They actually do a fairy tale, or you can go in and just see how words are pronounced. Because you go in and they actually have the fairy tale where the chicken’s going along and they tell the story and it’s all told in Gulla.
Warren Buckleitner: You consider advertising?
Janet Sarratt: We consider it to the point that if there’s so much of it, it’s a deterrent, to put it on the site.
Warren Buckleitner: Okay, is there a way on the Best Sites list that records any kind of presence of advertising or the funding behind the site?
Janet Sarratt: That’s not our main stipulation in what we look at, because we’re going for authority control. We’re going for appearance on the screen. Quality, appearance. We look at the dates, how often it’s updated, when the last time people have been on there. We look for the comment – who’s sponsoring, who’s in charge of the site, what the thoughts are behind the site. You know, the About Us questions.
Warren Buckleitner: I think one of the things that I was picking up is that maybe one of the real monsters under the bed – maybe you agree with this or disagree – is poor quality.
Janet Sarratt: Oh, definitely.
Warren Buckleitner: Didn’t you find a site where there’s whale watching?
Janet Sarratt: Oh, yeah, if you want to go to the – it’s a Geocities one. The first one on your list. Did you know if you went to Lake Michigan, you could take whale-watching tours? That’s on the page I’ll put out down here. It’s the Geocities address.
You can go to Lake Michigan. And this one does put a disclaimer up about being over age 18 and all to look at it, but you can – one of the items that they put in in their information about it, that the whales can actually swim faster in Lake Michigan because there’s no salt in the water.
Warren Buckleitner: Folks, one of the — now, while I agree with the WebWatch survey 100%, those are the headline findings. The violence, the pornography. One of the real enemies here, or the monsters under the bed, if you will, is poor quality content – factual misspellings, not researched. Anybody’s putting stuff up. And this is an audience that pretty much believes what’s online. So this is a whole other issue.
Janet Sarratt: Yeah. And I have another one that I printed out. What I have here that I’ll put out, the girl from KnowItAll and I did a program a couple of months ago for the school librarians in South Carolina. And this is a handout that we were giving them to urge them to do a lesson with students.
Go to good sites, go to bad sites. Let the children have a chance to see that just because it’s a beautiful site, the content, you can’t always trust it. And to look for who is responsible for putting that content up on your thing.
There are a couple of criteria, places on here that give good criteria. There are also the three bad sites on here. I recommended going to, as a good example, KnowItAll. Or I always go to the Library of Congress site and the American History site, because that’s always dependable.
There’s another one on there. It’s the second one on there. This one is a Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Help keep it from being extinct. And it has all the page things that you can say it’s well done, but look at the content.
And the third one on your thing, they are looking at pets’ reactions to bearded men. They actually write it up like a real research paper, but when you go into your resources that they used: Dr. Seuss: “Feline Responses to Hats.” Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madonna, you know? So, again, you have to watch your information and where it comes from.
But we are definitely a self-regulating source, because we do whittle everything down, and we really do take our criteria seriously. In the main question about the rating system, our site is self-regulatory. Okay, how many children find it? That’s debatable. We have a lot of children and teachers, and I’ll come back because there’s a section on ours that they can send in comments, so we know it’s being used. It’s not being used by the ones who want to go out and just see if they can kill each other or play games or they want to just come in and just play.
We had a lot of questions raised this morning, and they’re going to be raising more: Is there an industry standard at the moment? Obviously not. Should there be one? You want to say, “Yeah, sure.” It’s a tough call. You think about how many, anytime you go to an Internet provider: We’ll let you put up two or three Web sites.
Okay, well, how are we going to monitor the couple of hundred thousand Web sites that are put up a day? I know I’m exaggerating, but, you know? It’s hard to police all these that are going to go up. So who’s going to do that policing? Who’s going to do the regulating?
We as teachers work with the children to say, “You have to pick a good site. You have to do this.” Let them learn that way. So who can we call on? Can we call on school librarians? Can we call on public librarians? Can we call on PTO, can we call on PTA? Can we call on youth organizations? Where do we go to try to get this regulatory system set up?
Warren Buckleitner: Well, one thing I think we can agree on is, there’s an army of librarians who care deeply about this, and they’re in every town, they reflect every culture, and they know kids. They have MLSs [Master of Library Science] in many cases. So we need to tap into that resource.
Robin Raskin: Okay, let’s see if I can – I thought what I’d do is just focus on a few points that have been raised through the day.
First of all, I want you to walk away feeling optimistic, because we actually have made tremendous progress. The numbers say about over 50% of families are using some form of parental control at home – be it AOL’s or MFM or Yahoo. Be it imperfect, they’ve pretty much told their kids, “Don’t give out your name and address in cyberspace.”
And just getting to that point was not easy. You also have to understand a parent’s frustration, as I’m sure you do. Because as soon as you codify a body of rules that say: “Okay, don’t do this,” the next thing comes up.
So you move from a static Web site, to e-mail, to chat, to IM [instant messaging], to text messaging, to blogging, to community social networks, and parents are throwing up their hands, going, “I give up already! It’s impossible to control this stuff!”
I think that is why you see an 86% number asking for a rating system. Because what they’re really asking for, in my estimation, is they’re saying, “Give me the silver bullet, please. I’m ready for it.”
Unfortunately I think what we have to say to them is, “There is no silver bullet. Never has been, never will be.” Even the best rating system – and I’ll tell you a little bit about the history of rating systems – but even the best rating system is going to be imperfect. It’s going to underblock or overblock. It’s going to represent local standards, or it’s going to represent national standards and not global standards. It’s going to be imperfect, and you can only rely on it for a piece of protection.
Like anything else in our lives, there’s a legislative effort and there’s an enforcement effort, and there’s a public policy effort, and there’s an education effort, and those really have to come together.
So I served for two years on the National Academy of Sciences Committee to investigate inappropriate content and protection of children. Brainiest committee I’ve ever been on. Dick Thornburg ran it, Herb Lin published the paper at the Academy. And the best take-away we could give people — and this is after a lot of research and a lot of hours — was an analogy to a swimming pool. We said that you can drown-proof kids all sorts of ways. You can legislate new town ordinances, you can make them put up fences, you can put in pool alarms. But at the end of the day, what you really need to do is teach your kids to swim.
And we’ve been terribly negligent, I think, in teaching our kids. We give them tools, plenty. And the hardware industry should be taken to task as well, because they said rip and burn and rip and burn, and here are your wireless.
I’ve got a couple of devices here. This new one coming out like this week lets you do 99 IMs at one time, wireless, to any router. So a kid can just use this in school with their AOL account at home.
They’ve got a new phone that is the Firefly. It prohibits kids from calling anybody that parents haven’t programmed into the system. You can only have 20 numbers. The parents can’t even program their own phones. This one’s even harder. So it begs to see whether kids and parents will adapt it. But the devices are not just computers anymore, compounding the problem. So I think the hardware industry, if you ask me, they should tie the portion of their revenues to this effort of educating people.
I also want to stress that we’re not just talking about educating children because we’re nice people and good parents and we like our children, which is an accepted given. But we’re educating children because, if you see the young first-generation Internet users in the workplace today, you know that they have no idea about auditable email, about veracity in the Web sites that they’re using, about what’s plagiarism and what isn’t.
And if you look at any corporate scandal or journalism scandal in the last year, I would argue that the Internet plays a starring role in it. You’re going to see that more and more. So there’s an economic imperative that we come up with some answers to this problem really quickly, or it’s going to hurt us in the global economy.
The other thing I’ll say about kids is we need to talk to them more. They have really different attitudes about privacy and property. I listened this morning to a lot of the comments, and I felt like we sounded kind of old. That if you ask most teenagers about their privacy, they treat it kind of like a commodity. You trade it for things that you want.
And they’re very aware that they’re doing this. You give up a little information, you enter a sweepstakes, you get a date with the Backstreet Boys. There’s all sorts of things. You can meet great people. And they’re perfectly willing to do that. When you ask them about property, they have one of a number of excuses. It’s, “I’ll pay for it when I get older…the record companies make a lot of money…Mom and Dad don’t give me any allowance.”
So I think you can’t just say, “No, no, no, it’s wrong to take intellectual property.” You have to say, “Yes, yes, yes, here’s a digital allowance.” Or give them constructive solutions.
So if you look at the Facebook, actually their idea of privacy is pretty easy. The Facebook is a college site. You need a dot.edu address; it’s kind of like the Big View book. Just about half of all kids there have put their dorm name or their phone number, some way of physically contacting them in the real world. Tell them that this is a bad idea, and they will just laugh at you, and they say this is great. These are not little children. These are theoretically adults that have come through our system.
The other thing that is going to really sort of clobber us is, we’re not talking about – the ALA has done a great job for static sites that are good for parents with younger kids. What the Web is made of now — that kids love – is user-generated content. So if you can think of the way the Internet is just a pipeline for communications, well, these Web sites are just conduits for communication.
Do you want to put up MySpace.com, just to take a deeper look? Because it is so popular right now, and I believe this is like the bar phenomenon, like in two months it’s going to be somewhere else that these kids will go. But if you just go to Browse on MySpace, you can just see the latest hot profile. So MySpace, for those that don’t know, is sort of a cross between a personal diary and a blog.
You put up a lot of information about yourself, and invite your friends to come in, and their friends can invite their friends, and the whole thing grows exponentially. And pretty soon you think you have 200 million friends.
If you just click on any profile you’ll see that it doesn’t take much before they’re sexually suggestive, oftentimes really inane. “I’m bored.” A lot of drinking talk going on.
Warren Buckleitner: What’s the rating of this session here? The whole session.
Robin Raskin: Oh, right. We’re clicking anywhere.
Warren Buckleitner: We have to keep it rated PG at least.
Robin Raskin: So maybe we should get out of that one.
Warren Buckleitner: We’re seeing some pretty racy pictures there.
Robin Raskin: I’ll show you another one that kids – I do surveys all over the country with kids in class. Go to ebaumsworld.com. It’s just an idiotic site; it just has video clips from all over the country that a kid –
Warren Buckleitner: What is it?
Robin Raskin : Ebaum – I think I wrote it down for you: e-b-a-u-m-s world, ebaumsworld.
This is just a quirky, whimsical site that puts up all sorts of wacky videos. If you go to the video link, you can see, they have link after link. And the kids just think this is the funniest thing. You will not understand why they think this is the funniest thing.
But if you think about it, their lives are so overscheduled and competitive, and they go from morning till night. Cyberspace is, in many ways, their last place to experiment and be a kid. So as we evolve rating systems, you have to think of that, too.
And finally, my last point in all this – I could go into the history of rating systems and why they haven’t worked, and happy to do that in Q&A – but I think that we should be looking at what does work, and places people do trust on the Internet. I’m going to give you a couple of examples.
I think they trust eBay – I don’t have to think; it came up in this morning’s session, with data. They trust Craigslist.org. They trust Wikipedia. And they trust Google. They trust them because, intrinsically, at the algorithmic level, right from the conception, these things had a self-policing system.
Google – if you’re an advertiser, and you’re paying for every person to click on your site, you pay Google. You don’t want to be on that site unless you’re really targeting the right people. It’s a waste of your money and a waste of your time. So right from the beginning, Google made it part of their DNA to do the right thing online and not to try and set out the widest net and get any pair of eyeballs that you could, unlike pornographers, where that’s their business model.
EBay. You know who’s a good seller. Yes, there are some problems as there are in any community, but you know who’s a good seller, and you know that if there is a bad seller, the community will crack down on them pretty quickly.
You’ve got Wikipedia – self-correcting, community-developed encyclopedia. And I think to really have a rating system that works, you must feel vested in it, and you must believe it because you know the other people in it.
So as we come up with some of these answers to what should a rating system look like in the future? My advice would be to look at the best of Web that has gained trust, and take those models and see how they can apply to the world of kids’ sites.
Warren Buckleitner: Thank you, Robin. Lillie?
Lillie Coney: My name is Lillie Coney, I’m with the Electronic Privacy Information Center. We’re a public research center here in Washington, D.C. We focus our efforts on privacy.
We look at federal government agencies. We look at corporations. We also try to take what we learn and make it available to the public, to make sure they’re aware of ways to protect themselves, protect their privacy and, as consumers, be better at ferreting out where and when it’s appropriate to share personal information in exchange for some benefit or service.
We’ve been following the issue of children’s online privacy for a number of years, especially during the nascent years of the Internet, and the burgeoning awareness that children online needed protection.
EPIC provided testimony before Congress during the initial development of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. We’ve carefully followed the developments of how that Act has been implemented, and what the Federal Trade Commission has been doing to protect children online.
Now, it is the only federal legislation that’s out there to kind of look out for kids online. The Act itself looked at the age 13 and said children were defined as 13 years or younger. Well, this is more – children and maturity should have been the guide, and not a specific age, as well as the fact that the FTC has a lot of things that it is responsible for in policing activity over the Internet.
Also, there are some components where self-regulation is strongly encouraged. Now, if you’re a large industry or a significantly endowed corporation, self-regulation may be in your best business interests in order to curry goodwill out in the marketplace. But if you’re not, there needs to be other mechanisms to ensure that you’re a good player out there in the marketplace, especially when it comes to children.
Children are a huge consumer of information over the Internet. We look at them as sort of a universe that’s set aside from the broader universe of consumers online. They don’t have financial power, if you look at them as a whole population of consumers online, but they consume lots of information. And they can influence decisions that their parents make about things that they might purchase for their personal consumption.
More research absolutely needs to be done, of course, to better understand children’s online activity – where they’re going, why they’re going there, and what they’re doing while they’re online. We do know that the area of human factors gives us some indication of what may attract children and what may encourage them to click on something, or what may be the reasons why they provide personal information.
The survey indicated that 86% of those who responded were very concerned about a seal program or some kind of rating system to help guide them, at least give them some sense that their children’s online activity – even that activity where they may not be present – would be somewhat safer than what we know is currently happening online.
For the most part, people learn about negative online experiences of children by reading newspapers or news accounts of bad outcomes of children’s activities online. And that in fact may feed into a lot more concern and focus on what children are doing online, and a lot more vigilance on the part of parents and educators.
I think a lot of children had their first access to online communication in a broader community – not just those who were more affluent and had parents who were more affluent and better educated – probably in their school environment. And from that experience, as the cost of computers has come down, and Internet access has also become broadly available, it has moved from school into a broader experience in homes.
EPIC’s focus has been on how do we make sure that those experiences of children online are positive, and helps them develop good skills as consumers. Looking at it has always been the broader responsibility as a parent or the broader responsibility of corporations. It’s sort of a dynamic between individual households, between corporate behavior out there or company behavior online, as well as some oversight, to be sure that the power of corporations in making decisions about what is the best business model for them to engage in online is countered by the government’s role of making sure that they’re conducting themselves in a way that is not injurious to the consumer.
And, in this case, we’re talking about children as being information consumers and taking that information and figuring out how to make sure parents and educators have the best resources at hand to teach the best online consumption of information skills that can possibly be made available.
This generation, as they grow from childhood into adulthood, is growing up in an environment where information consumption is primarily occurring online, and not in libraries where people are using books, or young people are using books to do research to evaluate facts and to be able to make a determination between getting something out of one section might be a reference section or out of the history section of the library, or something that’s out of the fiction section of the library when they’re writing a book report is very important.
So developing good information consumption skills, I think, should be the number one – one of the key focuses of what we do. How industry can contribute to that development of those skills, how oversight by government agencies might be able to contribute to motivating industries to contribute to those skills, and how we can better inform the public with the things that we find and we learn, we make available online.
Primarily we publish all of our materials online. They’re available on our Web site. We do this in a way to better inform and educate, but also as a means of communicating with policymakers where some of the weak gaps are regarding children’s online privacy protection.
Now, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was a first step. It wasn’t the best step that possibly could have been made.
Warren Buckleitner: That’s COPPA.
Yeah. I try not to use acronyms, because a lot of times inside a community or inside of the Beltway it’s easy to do that.
Warren Buckleitner: I sort of like to use both.
Lillie Coney: Well, you know, if you’re talking to people who work in the field of children’s online privacy protection, they know what that is. But making people understand that there is something out there that is actually currently functioning.
They recently requested comments on how the legislation or how the law has been implemented, whether there are some things that could be done better. Whether it is actually providing a benefit. EPIC –
Warren Buckleitner: But, Lillie, I asked you a question about the teeth behind COPPA, and I asked you about a company. What was it called? American – ?
Lillie Coney: Well, part of what EPIC has been trying to do is provide a vehicle for educating consumers. And one that emerged that really has been beneficial to educate young people about how they share personal information recently came to light when the Department of Defense announced its intention to take data that it had collected over two years and provide it to a direct marketer.
They collected information on all young people between the age of 16 and 25 years of age. And they were going to give this to a direct marketer, including Social Security numbers and all kinds of information that it collected. And this direct marketer was going to perform some service for them. Now, the problem is that the negotiation happened between Mullen [Group], which is a direct contractor for the Defense Department, and this new subcontractor.
So although we love to do Federal Information Act requests at EPIC, you can’t get to that information between two private entities using that [TALKOVER].
Warren Buckleitner: It’s called American Student Lists.
Lillie Coney: Well, there’s one source of information that the Department of Defense was able to gather information from, it’s called American Student Lists. It’s really a data broker.
They go to schools, and they go to educators, they go to teachers and say, “We want to help young people find scholarship money. So if you can pass out this survey in your class and have these young people fill this survey out, we’ll take that information and we’ll help them find scholarship money.”
What they didn’t tell them is that they’re data brokers. They take the information they collect from these surveys, and they sell it to others who have interests in marketing things to young people, in addition to occasionally finding scholarship money out there, I presume.
But that data broker, along with another one that does the Who’s Who of American High School Students – I’m sure people have seen that solicitation; that’s another company that’s a data broker and collects information on young people – one of them had been fined by the Federal Trade Commission, the other had been sued by the New York State attorney general. Both resulted in heavy fines to those data collection services.
But they’re benefiting from the Department of Defense program that tried to collect all this information, because they’re buying information from them. And this presented an opportunity to educate young people about making freely available information about their lives to third parties. Because in the transaction of information, I’m giving you something, you’re going to give me something. But once I give you what I’m giving you, how else will that information be used?
Well, now we’re getting young people engaged in this campaign to end this Department of Defense database program, but also as a means to educate them about their privacy and get them very proactive about asking the first question when someone asks for personal information, “Why? Why do you want this?” And then, second, “Who else will have access to it, or how else will it be used?”
If we create good information consumers on the part of these young people, they not only know when and where it’s appropriate for them in making a decision to share information, but also the key questions to ask about how that information will be used once they provide it.
Those are some of the areas we looked at. A key area we looked at in our recent comments to the FTC regarding the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, was the importance of looking at a Web site. There’s a field of study called human factors. You can look – they actually have experts, professionals who focus on how to design a Web page to attract children. There are very specific criteria on how to do that – it’s color, it’s not having too much text. Children are more likely to click on something that’s moving or very, something that’s moving across the screen.
They’re more susceptible to ads. Adults develop ad blindness when they’re online. They don’t pay attention to the ads that are around the page; they look at the content that’s in the center of the page.
And looking at those criteria, the FTC may be better able to define whether this site is actually a site designed to attract children, or whether it’s a site that’s not designed to attract children. The way the law is currently written, it allows companies to identify whether they do in fact, are designed to attract children or not.
EPIC also filed a complaint against Amazon.com over their toy store Web site, where they have a site where you can go and you can give your reaction to a video or movie or some other material that might be available online through their toy store. Unfortunately, there were children who went onto that site, and not only made it very clear they were children. One instance that was cited in the complaint that we sent them, the child gave their name, their age, and their full address, which would have been a part of – literally shown to people who came to the site looking for reviews of a movie that that child had seen.
There were numerous entries where children told – were happy to tell their ages, their names, other personal information was provided. But Amazon.com kept, with the assertion that this site is not designed for those who are below the age of 18. The site did say, “Not for those who are younger than 18 years of age.” So we have this break between what the site, or the person who, or the entity that developed the site said the site is for, and who the target market is, and who in fact actually is using that site. And having knowledge that it’s being used for that purpose.
Warren Buckleitner: So one take-away from this is that children, the very definition, needs to be defined. It’s not like adult users and so on. There’s a big difference between a pre-schooler, an early elementary child, an upper elementary child.
You know, as they go through these developmental levels, each of them sees the Web in a different way. There’s a gap that we feel, I think, that after COPPA, age 13, from 13 to 17, that really isn’t protected.
So people are using, “Win an iPod.” They’re using a lot of techniques in order to get information. And that’s one area that needs to be looked at.
Robin, you were about to explode, I thought, at one point.
Robin Raskin: Oh, I was just [INAUDIBLE] historically. Well, it’s kind of blown up. When it was first connected, the question that it had – and this is why you have to be so careful when legislation’s involved — the law said that anybody under 13 needed parental permission to participate in a Web site.
And the only way to get parental permission was to either e-mail the parent and get a letter back, or to fax them something. It became so costly for companies who had good kids’ content to get out there and get parental permission, that they just went out of business. So a lot of the best content in the kids’ industry went out of business because of legislation that we enacted to protect kids. Wo we were left with the Disneys and the Nickelodeons and the MTVs who had the money to do this.
So when you’re thinking about legislation, you just really have to think about the unexpected consequences.
Warren Buckleitner: We’d like to zoom in on SAT prep. While we’re doing that, a couple of questions for American Library Association.
Janet Sarratt : I was just going to throw it out that one of our criteria – we very much frown on the fact that the child has to identify who they are. We frown on putting things up with that on there. So we have our Nickelodeons and stuff.
Warren Buckleitner: And also, we’re covering a huge array of issues here. We’re talking about advertising issues, privacy issues, filtering issues. We obviously are not going to be able to go into proper detail on any of these.
I think one thing that we all conclude is that there’s no silver bullet for any of these issues. There’s no substitute for good old-fashioned parental involvement in exploring this with your child. That message has to get through. If ever there was a time where parents need to be smart, now is the time. –and involved. But we also need good solid research. We need people to look at these issues, as we have.
Are there any questions? I don’t want to make this completely didactic.
Female Speaker: I’m interested in the panel’s views on the Kids.us second-level domain. I know it’s not very well populated, and there is certainly an intention to try to develop a safe place on the Internet for children.
But what, there are some challenges there, so what is the – ?
Warren Buckleitner: Well intentioned, and about a total of two sites signed up for, right?
Robin Raskin: I think as long as people are going to be held liable for things that go wrong in that domain, they’re not going to come around. So I think you have to look at what is going to attract people. Whether you’re doing a dot-xxx domain for pornographers, or whether you’re doing a dot-kids domain for a white space, a green space, a safe place for kids, there’s got to be an economic incentive, or some freedom from litigation and prosecution.
I really think when you get right down to what it’s going to take, and then it’s up to, I think, all of us to decide. Is it easier to just say to the pornographers, “Here’s your area, dot-xxx. Go there.” Adults who want pornography know where to go. People who want it filtered and know where to turn it off.
But what’s your incentive for going there? Not that a domain name is going to cost more than any other domain name, which is the way the [INAUDIBLE] thing worked out.
And there is, in the dot-xxx, there’s this sort of, there’s a law called the Protect Act that says you can’t mislabel yourself, misidentify yourself to somebody, or you can wind up in jail. So, theoretically, if you were a dot-xxx as a Web site, you would get some protection from that whole mislabeling and misidentifying yourself.
The dot-kids, I just think people are afraid it’s too risky to go there, that the liability of having an accident happen in cyberspace because you were Kids.us is just keeping people away.
Lillie Coney: One thing I can say is that we at EPIC have seen a lot of what happens when there isn’t the right balance between consumer power and corporate power, or government power and the power of citizens in the whole scheme of things.
But there is a balance. There is the right tipping point between the two to kind of make sure that things go along much more smoothly. And in that particular instance, there was a lot of concern that if you create a safe space for children, it needed to in fact be a safe place for children.
You mentioned that quite a few good content children’s sites went out of business because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. It would have been nice – we don’t do the lobby thing. We’re not going to write legislation and take it to the Hill and try to get it done. We do a lot of things on the outside of that, which reporting and finding out what in fact is going on and making that available to policy-makers, and doing testimony.
But what’s very important is that if there is a community that can provide content, whether it’s school districts or schools or library associations or ones who provide educational material – those are good content sources for that kind of domain, to give it some breadth and width and depth while the rest figure out whether the water is warm enough for them or not.
And I would have hoped that there would have been some incentive to provide them with the resources to be able to occupy that space while the universe of sources is becoming more complicated.
Warren Buckleitner: I get a feeling that some of the congressmen – I know one of the congressmen that was behind the dot-kids domain, and I don’t get a sense they hang around with kids very much. Also I don’t think, and I urge one of my brothers – I said, “Go to Google and type ‘sex,’ okay? Just go there and do it. See what comes up.” I don’t think enough parents and educators and librarians and researchers really are aware of what’s really out there. And I think parents have a tendency to just put their heads in the sand.
So when I see some of these efforts, I don’t think people are really tuned in to the technology and the whole culture of the Web. And being immersed in a bunch of middle school kids, and seeing where they go, you learn real fast. It’s a different culture. So, with any effort –
Robin Raskin: Plus this new Web, where the more they know about you as a person, the richer your experience is. As an adult, you know you’re perfectly willing to make tradeoffs in privacy versus service: “Let me know when Aspen has a good ski trip…let me know when this price drops…let me know my favorite songs.” You know what they are, you know my favorite reading. Give it to me.
And I think kids are feeling that same thing. When they give more of themselves on their spaces, they get more.
Warren Buckleitner: I want to get Linda in. Jan, a comment from you?
Janet Sarratt : Just a brief comment. You can go back to – look how fast technology’s moving, look how fast the Web has been moving. You can go back to family values and the parental advice and the parental teachings to their child.
How many children go and buy Playboy off the rack? You have to have the parents get their values in there in the beginning, and then they have to apply it to the Web.
Warren Buckleitner: Linda Bradway.
Linda Bradway: Thanks, Warren. As Warren said, one of the things that we did over this summer is investigate the SAT tutoring online programs. We actually used high school students; we recruited 20 students from a local high school. They actually came in to our center [MediaTech], spent 20 hours – not at one time, but over a period of time – actually with us observing them, doing their online tutoring.
They were arbitrarily assigned to one of 10 programs, so we had two students for each program. Warren and I also looked at those programs.
Warren Buckleitner: There’s a list, I think, on the next slide, of the services that we looked at.
Linda Bradway: Right. They were the 10 sites that we looked at. Unlike what other people are talking about here, all of these sites, except for the one that was free, are sites the parents have purchased a service.
They bought a service for their students, for their children, to help them improve their SAT scores. I can guarantee you, no parent is going to sit there and watch over their student’s shoulder to see what the quality of this site as the student is doing the studying. It’s not real exciting, let me tell you.
So we had the students do – before they signed on, and every one of the sites during the registration process, you had to give them name, phone number, whatever, and an e-mail address. What we did is, we gave each one of our students an e-mail address that linked back to MediaTech. They were not allowed to use their own personal e-mail.
So one of the things that we were looking at – and we continue to look at and follow – is what kind of e-mail are we getting back – and we’re monitoring that – and what did these sites do with these students’ e-mails? We found some very interesting things happened to it, very troubling things that we found as the students started to go through them. At the end, we did an exit interview using an evaluation tool that we developed, and we videotaped these, and we got some really great comments from the kids.
As the students did their 20 hours, they used SnagIt to capture pictures of problem areas that they identified as they went through the sites. And they were great about doing that.
Warren Buckleitner: Here’s a test for you. Which of these is true? I can’t read it. Can you all hum if you hear? I like that.
“Online services come with aggressive advertising.” Is that true? “Errors abound in the tests themselves and in the correspondence and presentation.” Is that true? “Higher price and reputation don’t necessarily make for better products.” “Technical issues hamper performance, and students’ privacy is not defined” Push the button. All of the above? The answer is: All of the above.
Linda Bradway: One of the first things we found was aggressive advertising. Not only did almost all of the sites, when the student went into their log-in page, there was advertising about that company’s other products. Books, classrooms, just lots of — and some unrelated products also.
So we found a lot of advertising happening. One of the programs, Number2.com, had a PNC banner over every page.
Warren Buckleitner: The screen that’s on right there was from Princeton Review. It was an e-mail sent to a student, and if you push the button once, that right there is one click to the Naval Academy’s online application. If you want a full ride, ROTC, and only –second paragraph, first thing, enter your Social Security Number.
So right there I started thinking, “Any link that goes within.” That’s one click from the Social Security Number field. That’s pretty powerful.
Linda Bradway: So we saw a lot of advertising that we didn’t expect: errors, the content. Now, you would think: This is SAT, college prep, that these would be pretty free of errors.
Well, let me tell you, we saw amazing things. Words were misspelled. Answer this: Here’s an essay. Write an essay based on this question…no question. Math questions that said, “What’s the summary of A, B, C and D?” and the diagram shows X, Y and Z.
So there were a lot of errors within this.
Warren Buckleitner: This is the College Board. This is a very interesting section. This is – I signed up my daughter, because my daughter is turning 14, and I wanted to get a free full-length SAT test and print it out.
So this is where you click right here: “Print test,” and you can also enter answers. This is a great service that the College Board offers. Can you spot the advertisement on this page? This is actually an ad for the official SAT online course. There’s no price, and you don’t have any indication – this is the official SAT practice test. This is the official SAT online course.
There should be a price. According to Consumer Reports WebWatch guidelines, a product that is being advertised for sale should be defined clearly as that. So we’re wondering the whole role of the College Board and ETS in actually selling products that aren’t well in terms of score.
And then the next slide. This is the old-fashioned thing. This is service outage?
Linda Bradway : Right. One of the other things we found were a lot of technical issues: sites being down. One morning we had 12 students sitting there, and they went into – do you recall the name? – Princeton Review, at 9:00 in the morning, and it said, “The site will be down from 6am till 9am.”
Well, by 10:00 it still wasn’t up, so I called. Finally got a tech person who said, “Yeah, it took a little bit longer, but it should be up in an hour.” At 11:00, it wasn’t up; I called again. “Well, we’ll call you as soon as it’s up.” Well, three months later, we still haven’t gotten a phone call. It is up.
Sometimes we did get a notice that the site will go down, but look at the time, and when the site is down for repair. That’s not an unusual time –
Warren Buckleitner: It wasn’t only Princeton Review. College Board had, Boston Test Prep. There were four.
Linda Bradway: Right. And it happened, I think, much too much. I’m not sure what they were doing to change it, because we never saw any changes. Unless they were fixing some repairs.
This is another technical issue, and poor Warren almost had a heart attack a couple of days, because he would enter in a credit card, hit enter, and we’d get back: “An error has occurred.” And that happened a number of programs.
So for one program he was being charged three and four times. He was able to call and straighten it out, but this is happening more than once, that there was an error, do it again, we’d do it, and then we never got a password. So when we called they said, “Gee, we don’t have any record of your credit card. Why don’t you go ahead and do it again?”
One place where, after you put in your credit card, it was PayPal that the credit card information was taken from. So a real dubious practice here – and we’re not just talking a little bit of money. We’re talking $399, $499, $699 for a period of time. And the periods of time made no sense: two weeks, six weeks, six months. There was no relevance to them.
Warren Buckleitner : And the relevance to the survey is this is one section of children’s sites. These are older children. This is just one category that we took a close look at. And we identified some pretty significant issues.
So I think one of the take-aways – and if we go to the next slide, you’ll find this interesting – is that this area is evolving. It’s really in its early stages.
Linda Bradway: This is a typical error that we found. The young man who saw that, he couldn’t wait to call us over. “Look at this!” And these are some of the SnagIts that they have.
[shows screen grab]
Linda Bradway: Here’s another one.
Warren Buckleitner: One of the tips, of advice — some of the quality writing here. Now, remember, part of the new SAT is writing an essay using good English.
Linda Bradway: The other thing that, you know the new SAT is an important component of it. It’s now increased the score from a top score of 1600 to 2400. So you would think the students today want – hey, if I want any practices with an essay, it’s something new I want to know. Many of the sites had no essay practice at all, and you didn’t know that until after you paid your money and got in there. There’s no way to practice your essay.
Or, one site said, “Here’s a way to practice your essay.” And when you clicked on it, you get a piece – what was it? — a pdf file that was a blank piece of paper with lines in it. You can print this out and write your essay on this lined paper! That was what they gave you: a piece of lined paper. No hints, no suggestions.
I’ll have to say that Kaplan, at least when you wrote your essay, it came back with a numerical score. No explanation, but a numerical. Princeton Review did a next better job. You got a numerical, and then you got a written summary: “Your essay was a little too long. You should have made a better point, blah-blah-blah.”
And then there was one other site that proposed or claimed to have a Harvard educator who will review your essay. You got a score –
[END OF FIRST TAPE]:
Warren Buckleitner: …though we unchecked them, and then we clicked Continue, right? So I just entered a bunch of stuff, got an error. “Forgot to populate one of the fields.” Okay?
Notice down on the bottom, they’re rechecked, okay? It’s like a hand reached over and said, “Oh, oops!” Now, notice the positioning of the opt-in. That’s the field that was forgotten (“How did you hear about it?”). So I repopulate it, and I want to just continue. This is a very sneaky way to get kids to opt in. That’s probably the most devious technique. Now, if you want to talk about harming trust, all of a sudden kids are getting armed forces e-mails. That’s pretty bad stuff.
Next slide, and we’ll leave it at this and take some questions and keep us on schedule.
Linda Bradway: I think this is the best slide, and a great way to end the program. As I said, the new top score is 2400, no longer 1600. This is what SAT Secrets, in one of their Tips and Hints on how to succeed in the SAT, said: “Don’t set your sights too high, guys.”
Warren Buckleitner: What I’ve got to do is put a piece of paper on the ceiling with the high score of 1600, and “you’ll flunk.”
Linda Bradway: So I think that tells you the quality of the content of many of these sites.
Warren Buckleitner: This is a sneak peek at the study. We’re going to be issuing a full report, and at that point we’ll be free to comment more on the results of this particular area.
We have time for a couple of questions, and then off we go.
Male Speaker: [INAUDIBLE] and I know how, the back end of these Kaplan and Princeton Review [INAUDIBLE] years. And some of them are intentional and some of them are not. And those which are not intentional are just poor programs.
Unfortunately, in the case of Princeton, their server is not very robust, and they have been plagued with lots of down-times. The management – I think there’s a question of how to build this kind of stuff that everybody relies on. There is something you can do, a qualitative statement that you can issue, and it has to be up this time and down, and you have to check.
A lot of these sites are actually built by interns, those who just got into college, first year or second year of college, and they’re coming in an hour or two, maybe work 10 hours a week, so they miss out a lot of those spellings.
So the reality is that, it’s like kids putting up the site together for kids, and it’s very tenuous, I think.
Linda Bradway: But the difference is, parents are spending $599 for a Princeton Review course.
Male Speaker: That’s right.
Warren Buckleitner: The other important thing here is that, when asked, 20 of the kids – the majority of them – liked the service and would recommend it to another. They found six of the 10 sites to be very useful.
The interactivity, the instant feedback, the bookmarking, they could come back. These sites were not seen as a waste of time and money. One of the things we’re going to see is, did it actually give them a higher score, which it promised.
Male Speaker: As a technologist, using a Web site for instructional purposes is very poor ways to do it. Each page is like one whole program. So you’re dealing with like writing 50 different programs. So there are different ways to do it, and I don’t know –
Warren Buckleitner: The other thing is, they’re using Flash, and there’s an inverse relationship with the complexity of the technology. Only two of the sites use sound of any kind. And those, of course, are going to clog up a browser. So it’s very, very tricky.
Any other questions? And then we need to wrap up here.
Male Speaker: For the redirected e-mails that were given out, I was just wondering if you had unique e-mails for each of the SAT companies, so that way you could then track which ones brought – ?
Linda Bradway: Yes, absolutely. Every child had a unique e-mail, unique password. We had a record of it. So, yes, we knew exactly which student it’s coming from, and which SAT program it’s coming from.
Lillie Coney: One thing I’d like to state is that this why a privacy statement is so important on a Web site. If they’re trading or selling the information being collected, that should be made available to the parents at the point they’re purchasing, or to the young person at the point that they’re providing information.
The other issue is, technically that’s not opt out — I mean, opt in. If they pre-select to receive information, I would not call that opting in. I think if you have to de-select, you have to opt out.
Warren Buckleitner: That’s right.
Lillie Coney: The definition, from a privacy perspective, is you have to do something in order to be a part of a list or something like that.
Warren Buckleitner: Thank you, Lillie. For the record, that’s up right now. That’s Kaplan.com. Go try it out, you can do it right now. See that practice. It needs to be changed. That’s the No. 1 – in terms of gross sales – test prep service out there. They’re harvesting high school juniors and seniors, that information, and they’re selling it to who knows where, because they don’t define their partners. So that’s not a good practice.
Boy, we could go on for another two hours on a lot of these issues.
I’d really like to thank Lillie and Linda and Robin and Jan for your insights. We’ll be here, and I greatly appreciate it. I learned a great deal.
[End of panel]