Tech Development Must Move From Usability to Safety

Tech Development Must Move From Usability to Safety: More than a century ago, Harvard professors Louis Brandeis and Samuel D. Warren defined the “right to be let alone.” Their article became the first document to declare the right to privacy.

Now, as almost every human on the Earth trades off chunks of personal information in exchange for online services, the question of the “right to be let alone” sparks discussions.

Among many questions raised, the question of children’s privacy rights and addiction to social media is harrowing.

In this article, we’ll look at this issue to see if there are ways out.

Kids on Social Media

Social media has become an inherent part of our culture, giving some platforms unprecedented access to the personal data of over three bln people worldwide. At the same time, they attract new users of different ages.

  • Naturally, kids socialize online too.

This gives social media unseen possibilities for improving customization algorithms: they can follow how user behavior changes as people grow older. This may be later used to craft better-personalized solutions and make platforms more user-centric.

Usability wholly depends on customer likes. In the beginnings of human-centric design, any developments demanded interviewing. Now, you have user data harvested online. This richness of information simplifies building sophisticated algorithms, dictates design trends, and is a product to sell.

Governments and corporations buy user data to know what people want and like. According to Washington Monthly, internet companies earn an average of $202 per American internet user.

With the information collected, online companies know how to manipulate human needs and make their products increasingly attractive.

  • That means making people want more.

In 2019, the New York Times column The Privacy Project posted an article expressing the growing fears of children’s addiction to social media.

The article states that parents become more worried about children’s online behavior. The popularity of books like “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids” and “The Death of Childhood” grows, resonating with parents’ fears.

The “overuse of technology” has become a number one issue on the list of parent concerns in 2018, according to American Family Survey. This trend shows one thing: the internet has to be fixed to be used by kids safely.

Instagram for Kids Failure

Instagram, as a part of the Facebook family, attempted to make its platform become a safer place for kids.

They aimed to create a platform to protect kids from inappropriate content, online abuse, trafficking, hate speech, and much more. That meant creating a censored network with curated content to ensure children get safe info appropriate for their age.

That included two issues per se. First, this way, Instagram received a wide possibility to influence or, instead, shape the views and tastes of its audience. In 1988 Michael S. Mahoney from Princeton University asked: “Is technology the creator of demand or a response to it?”

Now, almost 40 years after, we ask the same question: Do kids demand tech, or does tech shape children’s tastes? There is a big concern regarding the ability of social media to dictate trends and views.

Another issue is harvesting sensitive information. The former children’s commissioner of England filed a lawsuit against TikTok in 2021, stating that the company improperly obtains sensitive data from its young users. The same fears refer to other social platforms involving child content, such as Facebook family and Google’s YouTube.

Facebook finally closed the project of Instagram for kids, mainly because of the internal research that proved social media can harm children’s mental health. Yet, the issue is not solved.

Time for Safety over Usability

It’s time to find ways to make the internet a safer place for kids and adults, and this is the task for companies providing user experience design services.

Till lately, their primary aim was to make online good and service more usable. Now, the task is to include safety and privacy ingredients, too, as safety is new usability.

Mobile apps like BreakFree and FamiSafe, limiting screen time, are a significant move in this direction. The new European cookie policy, dictated by GDPR and aimed to give users more control and information on how their data get used, is another part of the trend.

Yet, there is a long way to go to make social media a place that is safe, private, and unintrusive. Let’s hope this is a manageable task from the perspective of future history.

 Author’s bio: Anastasiia Lastovetska works as a tech writer for MLSDev, a well known software development firm that creates custom web and mobile app solutions. She conducts technical research to create excellent content regarding app development, technology, UX/UI design, and business consulting.

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