And the Internet-is-Evil Fear-Mongering Starts


While Nicholas Negroponte spends most of the recent "Poor rural Thai students to get 100-dollar laptop" Agence France-Presse article trying to put a positive spin on the bad news from Thailand, Nareerat Wiriyapong interjected a little bit of hysteria at the end.

Included in an otherwise bland "Where is OLPC today" article was this choice bit of fear-mongering about the big, bad boogieman of the Internet: child pornography.

Who we should all protect
The OLPC initiative has been welcomed by many, but some activists have expressed reservations. For instance, campaigners have raised the fear that children could fall prey to sexual exploitation through webcams and unsupervised Internet access. International children's watchdog ECPAT urged OLPC organisers to make people aware of the dangers.

"One Laptop per Child ... must incorporate curricula and training for teachers and children on measures for protection from exploitation via information communication technology," the group said in a report launched December 19.

While no one is suggesting that child exploitation isn't a real danger, let's keep it in perspective. Child exploitation isn't new, isn't unique, and isn't exclusive to the Internet or laptops.

The use of children in roles way beyond their years, in despicable acts from soldiers to sex slaves has happened throughout human history, regardless of country or technology. It will be reduced or eliminated through social changes, political will, and cultural forces way beyond the humble One Laptop Per Child program.

If anything, the OLPC XO may be a positive force, a way for children to report on what is happening to them for a wider audience. Imagine a sex abuse case, student-reported, appearing on the OLPC Nightly News. Or a global One Video Conference Per Child on child labour.

Still, ECPAT does have a point: One Laptop Per Child could do more to help foster their laptops as a positive force in local communities. They could develop a OLPC cultural integration plan where everyone, from parents to educators is taught to be aware of what students are doing on and offline with the Children's Machine XO.

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Nice critical opinion. Should be taken care of definitely.

Now C-Net has found a child pornography threat in OLPC distribution and the fear-mongering starts anew, this time by an ex-Microsoftie. Coincidence or conspiracy?
Child abuse risks for $100 laptops?

This news got me thinking about the potential child abuse risks inherent in the One Laptop Per Child initiative and other "$100 laptop" projects. These well-intentioned efforts plan to give computers to poor children throughout the world, to facilitate their education and fuel economic development. Machines are being rolled out by the thousands in test programs in places like Uruguay, Nigeria and Thailand.

In America, even tech-savvy parents have a hard time monitoring children's safe computer use. We are told not to put a computer in our kids' bedrooms, and not to allow them to use webcams. What happens when we bring video-enabled, networked laptops into poor communities, where parents may not be able to read, much less understand how to use technology? My concerns were raised, and when I contacted internet child-safety expert Linda Criddle, who has worked on raising awareness of this issue for a couple of years, she brought up detailed concerns about these efforts.

Please, Wayne, could you read up on the Bitfrost security model before you post uninformed opinions.

The OLPC is NOT a MS Windows machine.

There might be a possibility that children will link up with bad characters in the west (or elsewhere). But this will never be "accidental". The XO and Bitfrost are build from the ground up to prevent unauthorized access to the camera, microphone, or data.

The child has only to be taught that they should not trust on-line identities.

Note that all XOs are cryptographically signed, so communications can be signed to. It is fairly easy to check which XO is communication with you. And a simple demonstration how the teacher can pretend to be a 6 year old boy or girl will give a lasting impression about the value of on-line identities. (it worked perfectly overhere)

After all these precautions, there will be children that will intentionally do bad and dangerous things. And that is where parents and teachers have to step in, as always.

The XO makes this easy, as it stores everything, and the camera always shows when it is recording.



Maybe you should re-read my post, starting with the title. Note the key title phrase "Fear-Mongering" - that right there should tell you that I roll my eyes when people start to use child pornography as an Internet boogie man.

Yet I am not so confident in Bitfrost as you are. I am confident that the OLPC XO will be used like any other tool - for good and unfortunately for bad, no matter the security model.

I am also confident that the vast, vast majority will be for good and there is no need to get our collective knickers in a knot worrying about kiddie porn.

"Maybe you should re-read my post, starting with the title. "

Indeed, I am very bad at speed reading and misinterpreted your post. I had already seen the article and rolled my eyes and probably projected too much of it on your post.

Sorry, I did not read your post as well as I should have.


It's not entirely fear-mongering since computers are used to lure children away in the land of the $1,000 laptop.

I don't see any reason why the sorts of people who exploit children won't make use of the opportunities for predation opened up by the XO. They will and they manage to succeed here in the U.S. where kids are familiar with computers and the Internet, having grown up with both and the authorities have been dealing with the problem for at least a decade.

The solution, such as it is, isn't to obstruct access to computers but to relentlessly go after child predators and put them where they can't hurt children. Yes, educating children will help but educating the police will probably help more since they're the people tasked with finding and bringing child pornographers to justice.

Also, let's be clear about this: the XO is just the leading edge of the wave of cheap computers. What's novel and exciting today will be common, and cheaper, in a year or two or three. It's probably possible to predict with a fair amount of accuracy when the tsunami will hit since computer prices fall at a fairly predictable rate. What happens when the commercial version of the XO++ goes below $100?

Allen, the problem with policing in poor countries is that it's unreliable at best and complicit at worse. While I don't subscribe to the idea that bringing computers to kids will increase the risk, it will make them more visible and potentially easier preys. It's not a technological issue, but a social one, and unfortunately, as I've explained in one post about crime and the OLPC in this site, the way crime works in poor countries makes quite complicated to go after the bad guys.

The solution to kiddie porn is not in Bitfrost or in legal prosecution, but as Mr. Mansilla suggest, in cultural education.

If parents are edcuated to be involved with their children's online activities, co-learners in Negroponte-Contructionism speak, then parents can offer guidance to children so they learn right from wrong.

This level of interaction requires a detailed cultural integration plan something that OLPC so far is quite lacking.

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