#IoB: The Internet of Babies

A Gen Y’s Guide for the Modern Parent

As an existential detective, I am always drawn to the concept of identity and its application to the ways in which we view and interact with the world. From a young age, the search to find my sense of self was, and still is, an eternal exchange between my similarities and differences to the rest of the world. Growing up in the 21st century has been a race to like, share, stalk and hope for the same in return. Social media had me plugged before I knew what it was or how it could be used. I was sucked into it all, like a month to a flame, without considering the consequence of where I might end up.

 “Social media had me plugged before I knew what it was or how it could be used..”

Until we come of age, our parents are there to protect and help shape our identities, we are nestled safely beneath their wings until we stretch for the responsibility to do so ourselves. So, when I came across the notion of digital pre birth identities, I was not entirely surprised to learn that in most instances, they too are not exactly ‘ours’.

This concerns me for several reasons, but namely for the fact that it is an issue that affects us all, yet there is so little awareness and pragmatism towards a solution, especially for the kids of Gen-Y like myself.

Parents across the Internet are following a trend of (practically) live streaming their children’s pre-birth on Facebook, Skype and YouTube. Ultra sounds and updates of their babies health are also finding themselves flung into the digital sphere with the help of apps designed to track the growth of their soon-to-be’s. As it currently stands, not much of what we do or put up online is actually ‘ours’ in the sense that we can fully control or influence what is private and what is not. Parenting therefore has taken on another dimension and a suite of new responsibilities to securing the protection of our children in the chaos of the big data helix.

As such, soon to be parents are the most vulnerable to being data mined, as their information, and the information to come, is extremely valuable in the eyes and pockets of data brokers. So tracking the user habits and behavior of couples is a given from square one.

 “..soon to be parents are the most vulnerable to being data mined, as their information, and the information to come, is extremely valuable in the eyes and pockets of data brokers. ..”

But even for those of us who aren’t trying to conceive, there comes a time in a woman’s month, a time that might send her questioning how next time she could be a little more prepared. It is supposed to happen every 28 days, but for many, our menstruation cycles are not so obedient. Conveniently, there’s an app for that. Actually, there are 112 apps for that. “iPeriod ” developed by Winkpass Creations, is an app that allows users to track their cycles, moods and pregnancies.

But before you get too excited by the fact that you have finally found a way to get a grip on your partner’s/daughter’s/sister’s/own PMS, you may want to know what it is that “iPeriod” requires in exchange for this convenience. As stated within their privacy policy, all the personal information they collect is subject to third party agreements, which as you may find after downloading the app, means advertisers. I would never have thought that this sort of information would be desirable to anyone, but I guess that these days, not even our private parts are private anymore.

iPeriod

Menstrual cycle and pregnancy tracking apps aren’t the only family orientated apps bidding to jump on the Internet of Babies ( #IoB ), things and the big data bandwagon. Apps such as ‘Life360‘, ‘Placeus‘, ‘AT&T Familymap‘ and ‘Verizon Family Locator‘ offer tracking services to help you know the whereabouts of friends and family at all times. Some of the information collected can be as specific as the travel speed your teen was driving on their way home from the party they weren’t supposed to be at.

Kids growing up today are doing so less and less by themselves, and increasingly by the help and support of tools and systems that are designed to keep them in check. Whether or not this is to be seen as a good thing is up for discussion.

Recently, this debate has been amplified by the introduction of online school grading systems, biometric attendance tracking and the roll out of Google chrome books within education institutions across the globe. Often, such systems are put into place without any or very little consent by parents whom are offered few alternatives if they protest.

inBloom, a software platform that enables schools and parents to analyze and tailor their student’s education experience, is the first example of a starry-eyed big data dream gone wrong. Schools across the US were forced to make a U-turn after details about the system’s privacy policy and third party agreements began to surface. Parents revolted against the scheme after discovering that personal details as intimate as their children’s social security numbers were uploaded to the system without their consent or even awareness on the issue.

“The technology being created today will allow us to form a better more accurate picture of ourselves than we have ever had the opportunity of seeing before.”

It is estimated that in the U.S alone, the education software industry is valued around $8 billion dollars, taking into account the journey from kindergarten through to high school graduation. This left some observers scratching heads as to whether the inclusion of third party accessibility was a deliberate or accidental coincidence?

All of these examples had the potential to impact our lives in ways that could have radically transformed us for the greater good, had they not been so presumptuous that their users would be accepting of the invasion to their privacy.

The technology being created today will allow us to form a better more accurate picture of ourselves than we have ever had the opportunity of seeing before. The result of this change means that these days, we have been given a greater freedom to explore our identities through multiple forms, whether it be through knowledge, entertainment or our relationships with others.

I suspect that parenting has never been an easy job. I won’t claim that it has become any easier or any more difficult, but I will say that these days, parents are going to have to put in a tremendous effort to keep up with the rate of change in technology, and to keep both a welcoming and weary eye on the face of such change.

3 tips for raising the ideal digital baby

1) Read the terms and conditions.

If the service is free and it’s collecting any kind of data, chances are, the data is being sold to someone. So if it’s the kind of stuff that you don’t want to be sold to anyone, don’t let it be. Read the fine print.

2) Know that on the internet, what goes up stays up – forever!

Be mindful that the decisions you make for your child’s online identity may stick with them well into the future or have the ability to influence their accessibility to basic services and benefits.

3) Consider your child’s personal data chain like money or any other asset.

Take control of your child’s digital footprint now. By the time they are old enough to resume control, it will be a rich source of information and form of personal currency.

 

Technology is agnostic in the sense that it is neither good nor bad, it is in our human hands that it becomes either.

To parents, I imagine there is no greater joy than witnessing the growth of their child, as they learn and develop their identity as an independent, autonomous individual.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to ensure that our children can remain free agents, without being type-cast to a role they were never meant or did not want to play.

Aviva

Aviva is a research intern and writer at Meeco, a Life Management Platform that is making it easier for families to protect and manage their digital footprint. 

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