Today the BBC reported a chilling update about the breakup of a global child abuse network that was run from a family farmhouse in England. Over 700 suspects have been identified and 31 children were rescued--but with over 85,000 images supplied by the mastermind, we may never know how many children were involved.
This news got me thinking about the potential child abuse risks inherent in the One Laptop Per Child initiative and other "$100 laptop" projects. These well-intentioned efforts plan to give computers to poor children throughout the world, to facilitate their education and fuel economic development. Machines are being rolled out by the thousands in test programs in places like Uruguay, Nigeria and Thailand.
In America, even tech-savvy parents have a hard time monitoring children's safe computer use. We are told not to put a computer in our kids' bedrooms, and not to allow them to use webcams. What happens when we bring video-enabled, networked laptops into poor communities, where parents may not be able to read, much less understand how to use technology? My concerns were raised, and when I contacted internet child-safety expert Linda Criddle, who has worked on raising awareness of this issue for a couple of years, she brought up detailed concerns about these efforts.
Criddle says that child pornography is among the "perfect microbusinesses" waiting to explode if laptops are distributed without proper precautions. Criddle warns that "we are about to unleash on the weakest people, children in the third world, the worst that the internet can offer, as well as the best." Unfortunately, she says computer companies do not have safety plans in place, and her warning seems to be falling on deaf ears among industry representatives she has contacted.… Read more