By Jacob Rubinstein
While technological advancements continue to enhance efficiency and productivity throughout our daily happenings, it is uncontroverted that the dangers of digital innovation present augmented and wider-ranging risks on multiple fronts. Unscrupulous data handling practices housed in companies such as Facebook, Google, and Uber consistently recirculate in the news. Those stories have that eery “big brother-like chill,” yet, the focal impact is on adults. However, the potential ills to children who cannot consent are frequently not as heralded.
As applied to children online, some of the prevalent concerns were eloquently outlined by popular cybersecurity provider Kaspersky labs. The Kapersky site notes the 7 most ubiquitous concerns which include: cyberbullying, posts made by minors who fail to comprehend the permanence of their digital footprint, and cyberpredators.
One growing point of alarm that is omitted from that list but seems to be recurrently pronounced is the risk of addictive-centric behavior. It is no secret that many local yeshivos and those throughout the world made numerous attempts to either ban Fortnite or to reiterate the danger involved in addictive behavior stemming from participation on that platform. Fortnite is a shooting game where players work cooperatively or fight to be the last individual standing.
At an April event at a London YMCA, Prince Harry lashed out against Fortnite. He said: “That game shouldn’t be allowed….It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible.” In November 2018, Bloomberg reported that the game led minor users to check-in to addiction rehabs and has born the dissolution of some marriages.
Last week, Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, proposed the Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act. The Act would prohibit the sale of “loot boxes” which are randomized collections of digital weapons and other items that can be purchased for a fee. This legislation would extend to other “pay-to-win” schemes where users would innocently download the game but are ultimately lured into additional fees. “When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley said. “And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions.”
Without taking a firm stand for or against the game, it is incumbent upon us to realize that if there is a media form that has caused eruptions in secular society, we must consider that potential ramifications on our most prized possessions.
Relatedly, on May 9, several U.S. senators called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the Amazon Echo Dot Kids edition violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The primary allegations are that Amazon fails to comply with the requirement of parental consent and neglects a dependable mechanism to facilitate parents deletion of their children’s personal information.
While regulators seem to be “handling it,” a few vital items to consider:
1) Strictly, the most egregious forms of misappropriation pertaining to children’s data face scrutiny. Flagrant daily violations may be relatively ignored. Regulators hold limited resources to address the wide array of potential cases and at times, there may not be sufficient gravitas to make it stick.
2) As a nation that is highly sensitive to protection of our children, I believe it behooves us to go above and beyond the law. It is our duty to appreciate that having our children’s data grabbed and stored without our knowledge can have dangerous consequences. Further, the effects of addictive behavior of any kind can have longstanding effects.
3) Similar to the Mishnah in Avos (2:14), we must know what to answer a heretic. On that note, if we have children who are of age and certainly if we have children who are already utilizing technologies, we must know the intricacies of those technologies to properly shield them.
Certainly, once items have reached the news, we want to further scrutinize the loaded guns in our children’s hands. One step further is to analyze similar technologies, and the step beyond that is to realize that any device with some level of connectivity can have catastrophic effects.
The steadfastness of legal and political figures should open our eyes. We must endeavor to understand what the pitfalls are before we have an emergent reason to do so. Technology is getting faster and more comprehensive and often our kids possess a proficiency we lack. Awareness is king and hopefully as its wise subjects we can prevent mishaps on the people we already shower with so much of our emotional and financial resources. As is evident from the Torah, when the daughter of a kohein makes a mistake, it is her father whom she defiles. If we allow our children to be harmed for convenience’s sake, is there a stronger case for defilement than that?
Jacob Rubinstein is a bar-admitted attorney in both New York and New Jersey. Jacob is a privacy expert holding certifications from the International Association of Privacy Professionals and Brooklyn Law School. He has advised major financial institutions including JPMorgan Chase. Jacob has written numerous articles on children’s privacy and is available for speaking engagements and privacy consulting.