My wife and I recently had our first child and we're incredibly excited to be new parents. As a technologist and gadget lover, I'm enthralled with our beautiful baby boy and thrilled about the surge of new technologies that will come into our lives. But the more I browse, the more reluctant I am to buy. I'm concerned about the impact new technologies will have on my child and his generation.
As I engross myself in new technologies, my mind races with the possibilities of tracking, recording, monitoring, and interacting with my infant child. I've already purchased a DropCam to view and speak to the child while I'm away and a Samsung video monitor to do the same while I'm at home. I haven't purchased them yet, but I've researched the Owlet smart sock and its competitors to monitor the baby's breathing and vitals while asleep. There are countless other infant focused technologies currently under development. The market is booming.
Looking beyond the infant years and the products currently on the market, my mind races with possibilities as the child ages. Will my toddler wear a yet-to-be-invented Bluetooth low energy bracelet that allows the home to respond to his presence? Opening or locking doors, adjusting shower temperatures, and shutting off outlets are all in the realm of possibility. Technology has an incredible opportunity to improve his life at every turn.
What concerns me is where all of this leads.
Day dreaming about my child and technology, I immediately envisioned that I would know where he is at all times throughout his life -- and that he too would be able to look back on that record. I'm a huge fan of location tracking and became very excited thinking through the incredible possibilities that would arise from knowing where someone had been for their entire life (which is entirely possible today -- see Trax). Then I realized that location tracking is something that I've personally opted into for my own benefit, what happens when it's forced on someone from birth?
Although we're all frogs in the boiling pot of lost privacy, we remember a day when it was absurd to think people could pinpoint us on the globe... which is why we react with shock when we learn the government is infringing on our liberties. Our children won't feel this shock because we will have conditioned them to accept monitoring from birth.
I believe a huge part of growing up is testing boundaries. As a parent, will I be providing my children a safe environment by monitoring them at all times and swooping in to the rescue... or will they be best served if I allow them to go off the grid and take risks in an environment where constant monitoring's data trail doesn't risk terrible consequences?
We need to think deeply about how these technologies are profoundly changing our views of liberty and society over generations. I'm beginning to believe we need new policies to protect our children from tracking technologies.
Most internet services prevent children under the age of 13 from registering. As a society, we believe the risks are too great: young children may interact with unsavory members of the network or may create a data trail with consequences far greater than they're able to comprehend. These risks are so great that I'm not even allowed to register for and co-manage a Facebook account on my child's behalf.
And yet, I may clip a device to my son's backpack and track and record everywhere he goes...
At a minimum, the companies that sell these services need to be aware of the age of the person being tracked. They need different data retention and data access policies. My son's activity should not be profiled until he's at least old enough to walk himself home from school...
I do not mean to suggest today's companies are bad actors, but they need to be held to a higher standard.
What do you think? Does a parent have the right to track their child? What about track and record? As a matter of policy, should services be required to delete a child's location history after some period of time has elapsed? Should their current location not be shareable? What other protections are needed? Beyond location, what about health and behavioral data? And most importantly, how will these technologies shape our society over generations to come?