By Jacob Rubinstein
The Netziv in last week’s parashah (14:41–43) exhorts us to synchronize our prodigious action at the moment Hashem indicates specific action is required. The first mitzvah we are adjured to comply with as a nation is the mitzvah of rosh chodesh; many Rishonim state that the objective is to delineate the value of time.
When we elect to effectuate our duties on our schedules, hashgachah pratis, or the specific oversight Hashem imbues in our life and choices, evaporates. Performance of mitzvos such as lulav or sukkah at an inapposite moment generates concerns pertaining to the Torah-based precept of bal tosif, that one should not add to the mitzvos.
Following the first episode of the meraglim, Hashem expresses his disenchantment with the meraglim and the broader klal. The same path where they could have walked hand-in-hand with the Ribbono shel Olam was the path they were now admonished to avoid out of potential risk from nations like the Cana’anim. As we know, when the omnipotence of Hashem guides us, nations of the world do not necessitate evasion. Precious weapons are in our arsenal and we willfully let them dwindle; such golden opportunities may never reappear.
This is the third article I am writing in the last few months on the topic of enforcement actions brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) exercising their authority under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). [Click here to read more] The subjects of recent FTC scrutiny on account of COPPA violation have all been companies whose names we all use and recognize; this piece is no outlier as we discuss the flagrant privacy and security violations relating to YouTube.
The investigation into YouTube is being funneled through third-party media; official reports have not yet been blazoned by the FTC. However, the two chief complaints reportedly coming down the pike are: (1) YouTube is storing children’s information; and (2) more disturbing, the contention is that YouTube has displayed media to minors that is poisonous for them.
The details of YouTube’s flagrancies are undisclosed; however, I can share a personal vignette. I downloaded an app called YouTube Kids. The mobile app has a separate profile for each one of the children, including my youngest, who was three at the time of this story. A few months ago, I lay down with my youngest to put her to sleep. We watched some lullabies on autoplay, all relatively consistent with her settings. The next video was of Barney the Dinosaur, which raised no alarms. But shortly into the video, within about 10 seconds, expletives and jokes about murdering Barney came up before I closed the app.
This debacle was on YouTube Kids; my educated guess is that on the main YouTube app, the likelihood of abhorrent content is higher.
We believe in hashgachah pratis, but we also believe that when our comportment is negligent and portrays extreme disregard, that high threshold of protection from above takes a hit. The thought occurs that our forefathers lost this ticket even though they had representatives directly connected to prophecy—imagine the impact on our generation without even a trace of such a voice. So we must ask ourselves the question: if we would not leave a diamond ring unprotected in an area with a past history of theft, how can we leave our most prized possessions where wolves have devoured sheep on a daily basis?
On that note, Apple recently brought back its parental controls. Apple, without the need for external software or apps, will enable customized restrictions on devices, such as screen time, content management, limitation on apps kids use and download, and blocking the internet and games. The precise capabilities each child is allowed are the determination of parents based on myriad factors, but the ability to use Apple’s top-tiered technology for that purpose is unique.
For some parents, the approach to technology is complete restriction. I respect and admire that. However, I think for the majority, we facilitate internet access because it can keep kids occupied for reasonable stretches of time and there is a wealth of information for their gleaning.
As the Orchos Tzaddikim writes in reference to the parashah of tzitzis, the measure of righteousness is founded in the boundaries we build and reminders we craft. When it’s becoming increasingly clear to us that a society that does not impress upon its children to pray thrice daily or to dress modestly and does not break the bank to send its gems to yeshiva is worried about the direction in which technology is moving, it’s a wakeup call to us. How can we concurrently dedicate so much of our resources to cultivating the next generation and ignore the fact that even the secular world is in a panic about what our children may see?
Life is so challenging. We cannot manage without hashgachah pratis, and the impetus for this to continue is in our hands. Heaven forbid, we should lead with a laissez-faire attitude at the wrong moment and our negligence complicates our relationship with the One upstairs. We can build boundaries and reminders quite easily, but that depends on whether or not it’s a priority.
Jacob Rubinstein is the founder of Pithy Privacy, a privacy consulting firm advising businesses on privacy and children’s privacy practices. He has counseled dozens of organizations including working in privacy at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Jacob is certified in privacy by the International Association of Privacy Professionals and Brooklyn Law School. He is admitted before the New York and New Jersey bars. He is also available for publication and public-speaking opportunities.