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The problem with ‘sharenting’

Report highlights risks of posting kids’ info to social media

Every day, thousands of parents proudly post pictures and updates on social media about their kids and their kids’ activities. That information, which might include names, birthdays, or school locations, is increasingly ending up in the hands of big tech companies and identity thieves, according to a U.K. government report released in November.

Published by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England and titled “Who Knows What About Me?” the report documents how social media companies are collecting more information on children than ever before. The authors found that a child’s digital history begins long before he’s old enough to get his own smartphone or computer.

The report said that by the time a child turns 13, his parents will have posted an average of 1,300 photos and videos of him to social media. It noted children between the ages of 11 and 16 post on social media 26 times a day. By the time they reach adulthood, they will likely have posted 70,000 times.

Such an extensive amount of personal data on children can expose them to the possibility of identity theft, according to security experts at Barclays. Three key pieces of information used in identity theft—name, birthdate, and home address—are “often given directly by parents, or can be deduced from photos or updates on social media accounts,” the report said. It cited criminal reports in which children’s data were stored until they turned 18, “at which point fraudulent loans and credit card applications were made.” The report said that Barclays “has forecast that by 2030 ‘sharenting’ will account for two-thirds of identity fraud facing young people over 18.”

The authors also documented how the proliferation of internet-connected devices contributes to the “datafication” of children.

“This is not just about parents and children sharing information on social media, even though that is part of the issue,” the report stated. “It is also increasingly about smart toys, speakers and other connected devices which are being brought into more and more homes. … And it is about information that is given away when children use essential public services such as schools and [doctors’ offices].”

Among their recommendations, the authors said tech companies should state their terms and conditions in more easily understood language and be more transparent about any trackers installed in apps, toys, and other products that could be capturing info about children. For children and parents, the report’s top recommendation: Stop and think before posting. Even tagging a child at home during a birthday celebration gives away his or her date of birth and home address.

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Guillermo Hernandez Martinez/The Springfield News-Leader/AP and iStock

(Guillermo Hernandez Martinez/The Springfield News-Leader/AP and iStock)

Technology

Emergency connections

New 911 technology provides first responders with automatic info

Americans make more than 240 million calls to the 911 emergency phone number each year. Yet, despite the ubiquity of cellular networks and the internet, many emergency response centers still rely on callers to provide location and other diagnostic information over the phone before dispatchers can determine how to respond.

Tech startup RapidSOS is attempting to solve this problem by integrating emergency services with connected devices such as smartphones, wearables, and onboard vehicle-connected emergency systems. Using the RapidSOS system, such devices can provide immediate information about a user’s location and emergency situation, even if the user cannot speak.

“Most emergency communication today uses infrastructure established between the 1960s and the 1980s, and it means that if you need 911 but can’t have a conversation you are in trouble. 911 doesn’t even know your name when you call,” Michael Martin, CEO and co-founder of RapidSOS, said in a TechCrunch interview. “But there is all this rich information today, and so our job is to help make that available when you really need it.”

The company partners with vehicle manufacturers and device- and app-makers such as Apple and Google to provide emergency workers with user location information, along with user-supplied data such as medical history or emergency contacts: When a person initiates an emergency call using a connected device or app—or when a connected vehicle detects a crash—RapidSOS’ software sends the info directly to the 911 system. The service is free for users of mobile devices.

Nationwide, more than 1,500 emergency 911 centers are already using RapidSOS applications, the company says.

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Courtesy of Cell-Ed

(Courtesy of Cell-Ed)

Technology

English on the go

Mobile learning apps could help workers or immigrants hone language and literacy skills

A new category of mobile learning apps seeks to help the large segment of the American labor force that struggles with literacy skills.

More than half of the workforce reads at less than the sixth-grade level, and many are illiterate, according to Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, the founder and CEO of Cell-Ed, a mobile learning platform targeting low-skill workers.

“When you talk about adult literacy, it sounds like you’re referring to a few folks who fell through the cracks, but that’s not the case at all,” she told Fast Company. “It’s a hidden epidemic.”

Cell-Ed and another application called Learning Upgrade—which teaches English and math using songs, video games, and rewards—were among five finalists for the $7 million Adult Literacy X Prize, sponsored by the Barbara Bush Foundation.

Users of the Cell-Ed app don’t need a computer or smartphone, just a phone that can text. Once logged on, they can access learning modules on subjects that include English as a second language, reading, writing, math, and more. The short “micro-lessons” last no longer than three minutes, allowing users to fit them in to work or home schedules. Cell-Ed coaches, available around the clock via text or phone, offer additional support to learners.

Several studies have backed up Cell-Ed’s approach. A 2014 assessment by the Center for Global Development found the app improved reading levels an equivalent of two to four years in a four-month period.

“I was a little skeptical at first,” said Kyle Teague, the learning and development manager at the Four Seasons in Silicon Valley—one of six Four Seasons hotels across the nation participating in a Cell-Ed pilot program with 100 Spanish-speaking housekeepers. “It has enabled them to speak with guests comfortably,” Teague told Fast Company. “There is a change in their confidence level.”

Cell-Ed charges nonprofit and government clients an annual license fee of $50 per user. For corporate clients, the cost is less than $10 per user, per month.

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