Posted in kids, z personal

Closing the US Gender Gap in STEM

SUPER inspired on my way to work listening to this story this morning. I was a casualty of the misogyny of university level Engineering/Computer Science – quit both degree paths after being exhausted dealing with my peers and teachers. My nerd powers were just not strong enough for the non-stop eye rolls, loud sighs and general exclusion I experienced. So good to hear some avoided or plowed through it and are still fighting the good fight.

It’s worth noting, though, that women approach things different not because of biological reasons, but because of societal, especially in the examples given in this story. Other cultures without our weird gender divisions do not have the same issues. So try to qualify statements of “women do it this way/men do it that way” with a quick “in our society” before/after (even if it’s just in your head).

How One College Is Closing The Computer Science Gender Gap

Adorable. AND Inspiring. Harvey Mudd President Maria Klawe
Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online advertising, online community, Safety/Privacy, trends, virtual worlds, web business

COPPA/FTC- you make it so difficult to help you out

So I have a reputation as somewhat of a COPPA compliance warrior – so much so that my co-workers have been known to groan when I mention registration or database needs.  It’s an odd thing to have attributed to you, especially with no legal experience SLASH a general frustration with legal risk aversion in general.  But when you have been working on kids websites and communities for coming up on 15 years, you kinda get a hang for the ins and outs of the laws that surround it (or at least you SHOULD).

That’s the thing.  COPPA is required. It’s not a choice.  You have to comply.  If you don’t, you get in trouble – like super expensive trouble – in dollars and negative PR.  So you just do it.  I always find it odd when people brag about it or add it as a tagline to their branding.  It’s akin to saying – “My name’s Harry and just so you know, I definitely DON’T punch random strangers in the face.” Duh, Harry, but thanks for letting me know.

But COPPA compliance has become alot like speeding on the highway.  Many people obey the speed limit, but many more edge a bit over the line.  When they see a cop, they pull back and pretend that 55 is totes what they were driving the whole time. But then they inch back up to 65 or 70 the second they are in the clear.  I’ve heard some people actually see a speeding ticket every now and then as a valid cost of driving – a tax they are willing to budget for.

Much the same, companies have started inching over the compliance line on COPPA.  I actually have been in meetings with kids brand execs (NOT my current ones 😉 ) that considered having a slush fund set aside in case their was a sanction levied against them.  But even Pollyanna-well-intentioned brands sometimes find themselves inching toward or even over the COPPA line.  You know why?  Because it’s SUPER hard to comply to in the internet/digital culture that we are in right now.

COPPA was put in place to protect kiddos from nefarious marketers who wanted to sell personal info. It was not for predators or decency or to teach personal accountability in identity protection.  But, with our culture of fear, those are the things that people think it’s in place for.

Is it good that a byproduct of this rather draconian law imposed on site operators so they don’t profit from the sale of kids info, ALSO helps prevent kids from distributing personal details about themselves in public forums?  Maybe – but I’m not sure that that remote and avoidable byproduct outweighs the other hurdles the law imposes.

You see, the whole thing is predicated on parents being super engaged in their children’s online lives.  Ask a parent about this and they will undoubtedly say:

“YES! Of course, I want to know what is going on with my child online AND to help them make good decisions accordingly!  I am an amazing parent!”

This is evidenced in tons of surveys.  But do those surveys follow up with the parent (and I mean REALLY follow up – not just ask the parent in another survey) with a

“Ok, parent, but do you REALLY? Are you ACTUALLY the super engaged parent you painted yourself to be?”

Chances are, if that followup actually happened, the answer  would be dodged with an excuse about lack of time or understanding, lament of the speed of tech advancements or a bold faced lie.

Truth is that, anecdotally (albeit with my use-cases in the thousands), parents don’t know about COPPA and their assumed required involvement.  So we can demand verified parental consent til the cows come home, but if the parents don’t understand that is something that is needed, all the FTC is protecting is a child’s ingenuity to lie about their age, while simultaneously making it harder for an an ethical site operators to pay their staff while providing good content for kids.

Unless these impositions on the site operators are coupled with a robust (and effective) campaign to explain to parents WHY and HOW they need to be involved, COPPA is simply discouraging smaller brands away from quality content from kids, encouraging children and parents to learn truth-dodging techniques in registrations and forcing the nefarious operators deeper into the shadows to avoid detection.  Only bigger brands can afford the legal counsel needed to check that they are in the right.  The ones who can’t afford will simply not offer the content, or worse, slap a “over 13” stamp on it and skirt their responsibility.

The internet is based on communication channels – especially in the age of social media that is now the norm.  By starting from the false axiom of parental involvement and prohibiting use of the now standard means of communication until this involvement is verified, you are setting up either a web of lies OR limiting our next generations ability to learn how to use these channels correctly.  Both are horrible choices.

And don’t even get me started on how most of the mobile rules don’t even have a path to compliance…

Instead, we should flip the paradigm:

  • For the operators – we make the compliance voluntary and, therefore, honestly brag worthy.  Make it like shopping on a secure site – you get the security so that your customers feel safe.  If you don’t have that seal or badge or OK from the FTC, parents/kids would think twice before using their site.
  • For parents – we give them back their parenting responsibilities.  If they think their child shouldn’t be giving out info online, the parents should be punishing the children for breaking their house rules, not blaming the sites for making it too easy for their child to give out info.  And we should be helping parents understand this and how to do this – not assuming they are already there.
  • For kids – we teach them media awareness, basic stranger/danger skills and critical thinking.  If they aren’t ready for it – their parents shouldn’t be letting them use those sites – whether they are 8, 12, 15 or 17 years old.

I am not naive, I know this isn’t going to happen this year or even next.  But I am optimistic as to this happening at some point.  Until then, I will remain the compliance warrior, marching and marching on.  But I have 10 million+ kids and parents on my compliant site – so you better believe I’m gonna start the first steps toward a more rational model now.

Posted in Animal Jam, kids, Safety/Privacy

Safer Internet Day!

Yeah, I know.  First, Community Manager Appreciation Day (#CMAD) and now Safer Internet Day?  How many trumped up days do my peers need to feel good and noticed?  (The answer is infinite – we are passionate, insatiable service providers, so we will take whatever we can get.)

That said – the twitterspheres I pay attention to were all over Safer Internet Day yesterday.  For really great resources, run a twitter search on #SaferInternetDay or #SID2013.

At Animal Jam, we launched a new Parent Video series that we are calling Animal Jam Parent Connection.  We will go through tips for frequent issues parents deal with and review some of the offerings we have at Animal Jam.  This first one focuses on teaching good password habits.

I host the first, and my aversion to myself being videoed aside…, I think it came out ok.  Let me know what you think and if you have ideas of other topics we should cover, like parent controls, bullying, naiveté, safe chat habits, etc  🙂

Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online community, Safety/Privacy, trends, virtual worlds, web business

Digital Kids and 2013 Predictions

I am excited to be involved in this years Digital Kids Conference as an emcee for the first day’s talks.  It’s collocated with Toy Fair again in NYC, so we should have a nice crowd.  Tonda, Chris and crew are promoting on the regular social channels – Facebook, Twitter, etc.

There is also an affiliated Digital Kids Safety Summit as well – you know I’ll be THERE too.

In prep for the conference, I was interviewed about my predictions for our industry in 2013.  Here’s a snippet:

“The new COPPA articulations have changed the digital climate. COPPA requires a level of parental engagement and involvement that many families don’t realize. Parents don’t understand how much parental consent they have to give, and new online safety and privacy articulations are going play an important role in online parenting,”

You can see the whole interview here.

Hope to see you all there!

 

Posted in kids, Safety/Privacy, web business

COPPA musings

The annual FOSI conference held in DC last week really helped to articulate for me some of the current ambiguity in the COPPA legislation, specifically with it’s intention and it’s enforcement.

Currently, the law is written in such a way that it clearly intends to protect childrens’ personally identifiable information (PII) from being used for nefarious purposes by the websites collecting it or their third party partners.  Some of the changes being proposed (public comments are due by the end of Nov) help to update and articulate this point and make the criteria points a bit more salient with todays tech climate (i.e adding geo-location, behavioral advertising, etc).

One point that is hotly debated is Email Plus.  Currently, sites can use this method (sending notification emails to a parent informing them of a child’s intent to share PII), but the FTC is trying to remove this.  The reason for this being that the sites should, by in large, not be soliciting PII from children in the first place and if they are, they should be complying with the more rigid parental verification models detailed in the law.  As Amy Pritchard from Metaverse Modsquad articulated to me, “Email plus is being eliminated as a way to collect PII and use it internally, as most sites had used it as a best practice parental notification method.  In order to allow sites to continue to do this, the proposed changes allow for sites to collect the parent email address for purposes of notifying the parent that the child has become a member of [or registered for] the site.”

The informal debates that I heard and participated in at the FOSI conference dealt mostly in the intent of the law.  Most of us agreed that the law should protect a child’s PII from being used for anything other than to make the game play better.  For the most part, the consensus is that, except for specific situations, like contests, DOB and gender are really the only 2 pieces of child PII a site needs to collect, and these are allowed currently under COPPA.

The finer point that I recognized in our sometimes spirited debates was between solicited PII and passively collected PII.   A site should not solicit PII from kids, such as in the registration process, as most of this information is not needed for normal game-play (unless, again, they get verifiable parental consent).   But what if kids give PII freely, such as in chat or on forums/boards?  What, if any, sanctions should be levied unto the site in these scenarios?  The informal consensus was that the site should at least employ means of screening and moderating such content so as to make sure that this PII is not easily given and read on the site – but that this should not be legislated as part of COPPA.

Anne Collier wrote about this recently (http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=30775) – “The proposed [COPPA] changes respond to the advent of social media (social network sites, virtual worlds, online games, apps, etc.) in that sites can “allow children to participate in interactive communities without parental consent so long as the operators take reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all children’s personal information before it is made public,” and companies will also have to hold third parties such as app providers to the same privacy standards their services are held to.”

I do not think that the intention of the law should be about teaching and protecting kids to be safe with their PII.  While this is an ethical and moral imperative that companies that target this demographic should abide by, I fall pretty firmly on the side that this should not be federally mandated.  Many of us, myself included, believe that the free market, and hopefully vocal parent groups and watchdog organizations, should be more of the gauge as to whether this is being done on individual sites.  In theory, educating and protecting kids from sharing PII in chat is a great idea, but those of use who have to DO that work, realize how difficult and sometimes impossible it is to be 100% effective.  I do not see how the government could keep up with or track down how effectively sites are at keeping up with that.

This was the 5th Annual FOSI conference, and it was very good to see more representation from practitioners, rather than just lobbyists, marketers, safety advocates, researchers and bloggers.  Hopefully, those of us with real-world/front-line experience in implementing these sort of laws can gain influence in the conversations so laws can be amended or written practically the first time, rather than after the fact (or not at all).

Posted in Animal Jam, Club Penguin, Disney, gaming, kids, online community, Safety/Privacy, tween, virtual worlds, Webkinz

Virtual Worlds Mgmt 101

Izzy Neis and I worked on a primer of kids virtual worlds that we could share with people.  Kind of a what’s good about them, what difficult about them, what they are and are not. Enjoy.

And as I was uploading this one, I saw this fantastically designed on on Slideshare as well.  Guess which one of us has access to graphic designers 😛

Posted in kids, tween

A million, yeah, Animal Jam passed it

So the big news is finally out!  We reached 1 million players!  It was last month and we are already climbing higher at a fast clip, but still something to celebrate.  🙂  Here’s one of the news outlets that picked up the press release:

http://venturebeat.com/2011/05/16/national-geographic-virtual-world-animal-jam-hits-a-million-kids/

Even more fun, our team celebrated at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, our studio’s home town zoo and where we are sponsoring their EdZOOcation program and the coolio Allosaurus:

Posted in gaming, kids, tween, virtual worlds

Dr Brady Barr in Animal Jam!

OMG, I am SO excited about this new addition to National Geographic Animal Jam.  Dr Brady Barr from Dangerous Encounters now has a Gadget lab in Animal Jam!

It’s been live for only a couple hours and the room has been full the whole time.  Dr Brady Barr specialized in cool gadgets that help him get crazy footage of all sorts of animals.  And we are showing some good ones, including Brady getting into a Crocodile getup and tagging Crocodiles, hanging out next to a deer carcass to see wolfpacks at night and pythons and Mystery Swamp Creatures!  ACK!

I love it!  And this is just the first day. Look out for more cool stuff from this awesome-tastic Scientist/Celebrity that we are partnering with.

I find myself  shouting at the videos – get away from there Brady!!!

Woot!

———-

5/12 – UPDATE!  Brady’s answering the player’s animal questions!

Dr Brady Barr now has regular video answers to questions from kids in the game.  So our kids can ask a real scientist their animal puzzlers and potentially have him answer their question.  Love this kind of feedback and recognition.  How exciting!

Posted in kids, television, z personal

Stop it, Rihanna

Hi, My name is Joi and I’m a pop culture addict.  I have been one for most of my life.  In fact, I can’t remember a time when pop culture wasn’t important to me.  One of the more embarrassing areas of my addiction is pop music.  I am obsessed with it. I know all the words, the back stories to most songs and much of the gossip that was woven in with the releases.

Tangentially, I consider myself a progressive, probably more so than most.  I really don’t care what you do in your house, your bedroom, etc.  Try not to hurt anyone without their consent. This is, of course, with the caveat that the persons participating are A.) Adults and B.) Capable of granting consent without coercion.   And while I don’t care what you are doing behind closed doors, I would prefer if you just kept it to yourself.  I am happy you are happy being an exhibitionist, just please don’t do it around me.

So, given all of the above, I have a huge problem with many pop artists of late and their disregard for the public space and their audience demographics.  The airwaves, specifically, are supposed to be family friendly space.  Why do we bleep curse words, but not content that talks about abuse?  How does that work?

Some examples?  Eminem talk about tying a girl to a bed and lighting the house on fire.   Rihanna’s new song S&M has tons of explicit descriptions of pain/fetish play, and she has an older song about Russian Roulette.  Bruno Mars has songs about being bored and choosing marriage for the evening, and another that describes multiple ways he would kill himself in order to prevent the object of his affection from leaving.  And just pick randomly from the Brittney Spears catalog lately – threesomes seem to be one of her favorite topics, but who can forget Hit Me Baby and Slave for You, among others.

Eminem is a difficult example, as he would never posit himself as targeting a younger audience.  But Rihanna, Brittney and Bruno Mars – they are clearly targeting the tweenie boppers and their song lyrics are insanely inappropriate.  I don’t expect their music to be all Pollyanna, but you cannot have your cake and eat it too (altho, I DO hate that cliche – why CAN’T you eat your cake that you have?).  You shouldn’t market yourself and stylize yourself for a younger audience, cashing in on their lucrative wallets, and then pretend that your music is not intended for their ears.  Or at least not be flabbergasted when someone calls you out on it.

Yeah yeah, I hear what you are thinking, that innuendo has been part of songs forever.  I agree and I think it is fine.  My problem is that we have left innuendo land and are now knee-deep in explicit description land.  What happened to nuance, metaphor, allusion, subtlety?

Those of you who know me offline know that I am far from a prude.  But I know how to separate my worlds and how to draw lines for appropriate behavior.  why is it so hard for millionaire pop stars with a gaggle of handlers?

I have been a children’s content producer for years.  We have an ethical responsibility to our audience.  In the online world, we have tons of watchdog organizations making sure we stay on the straight and narrow in the ethics arena.  It is fair for me to bring this up.

Will I change it? – uh, probably not.  Do I sound like a geiser screaming for the kids to get off the lawn? – kinda.  But if you can’t rant on your blog, gosh darn it, where can you!

Posted in kids, trends

That’s tech learning?

Saw this and had to repost:

My son is a sixth grader in a district where I don’t teach, so I always try to pry info out of him about what he is up to (no small feat, with a 12 year old boy). I’m interested, and yes, sort of competitive, too. Yesterday, I asked him how his six-week “exploratory” block in technology went for him. My question came on the heels of his shocking (to me) remark that “Tomorrow, we get to play video games on the computers for 48 minutes.”

Now, I know that 12 year olds are not always that reliable for the entire tale, so I listened to him explain what they did for six weeks. But even after some thorough grilling, it became clear that “technology” is the wrong word for this exploratory block. They learned some typing skills and, as he said, “He taught us how to do shortcuts in Microsoft Word …. and we played online games.” And then, “Oh, he showed us how to put an image in Word. But we all already knew how to do that.”

“And if you didn’t, it would take you … what …. five seconds to figure it out?” is what I muttered back. Shortcuts for Word? That’s technology in the classroom? I am beside myself with frustration that this is the best exposure to technology offered to a sixth grader? I’ll bet that curriculum is 10 years old and hasn’t changed a bit since then. What about creating? Composing? Publishing? Exploring (not games)? Web 2.0? There is a movement underway, folks, and if you can yourself a technology teacher, you better get on board. I do show my own children a lot of technology (although I should write about that someday now that he is entering the ‘Can I have a Facebook’ phase and we try –not always successfully — to balance access to our technology with limited screen time). Here at home, we make movies, create music and do more than most, I am sure. But what about those other kids who don’t have parents who are teachers into technology? What about them? Shortcuts and image placement in Word is the best we can do for them? I’d even be happy if the gaming was them inventing their own games or something of value. Instead, they are going to sites that are probably bombarded with advertisements in order to play a simplistic flash game. Peace (in a huge sigh), Kevin

Source: dogtrax.edublogs.org, Posted on: Jun 18, 2010 09:31 AM by dogtrax