Our kids are being watched by creepy tech giants who peddle digital crack cocaine — parents need to step in

IF you think the greatest danger your children face is when they are approached by a stranger on their way to or from school, think again.

In fact, it’s when they are at home that they are most at risk — alone in their bedrooms and in front of a screen.

Getty – Contributor

British children post 70,000 times on social media by the time they’re 18, providing tech giants with a treasure trove of valuable ­personal ­information[/caption]

Yesterday The Sun told how the ­Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, released some hair-raising statistics about how closely ­children are monitored by the increasingly creepy tech giants.

By the time the average British child reaches the age of 18 they are likely to have posted more than 70,000 times on social media, providing companies such as Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram with a treasure trove of valuable ­personal ­information about themselves.

But it isn’t just the messages they send to each other.

Their day-to-day movements are tracked on their phones and smart watches, their school reports are stored on education databases and their digital medical records are kept by the NHS.

Kids online

  • 70,000
    social media posts likely by age 18
  • 80,000
    people in UK pose threat to kids online
  • 75% of 10 to 12-year-olds
    have a social media account

It’s as if they’re living in 1984, George Orwell’s dystopian novel about the future, except instead of being monitored by the surveillance state, they’re being spied on by hundreds of Big Brothers.

And most of them have not got a clue that it’s happening.

Last year, the NSPCC published a report showing that 14 per cent of young people in the UK have taken a naked or semi-naked picture of themselves, which suggests privacy is not uppermost in their minds.

I know from personal experience how dangerous this casual attitude to social media can be.

Alamy

Even if kids were aware just how easily their posts could come back to bite them, they probably wouldn’t ­curtail their online activity as they are being manipulated[/caption]

At the beginning of the year, I had to step down from a government job and resign from the boards of several ­charities when some silly things I’d said on Twitter were dug up by my enemies.

But even if teenagers were aware just how easily their posts could come back to bite them, they probably wouldn’t ­curtail their online activity because tech companies have become masters of getting people hooked on their sites.

Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, let the cat out of the bag, revealing that social media platforms deliberately set out to turn people into addicts by exploiting their weaknesses.

The reason there are “like” buttons, according to Parker, is because every time a user’s post is liked it creates “a social validation feedback loop”.

Facebook co-founder Sean Parker revealed that social media platforms deliberately set out to turn people into addicts by exploiting their weaknesses
Getty Images – Getty

“We need to give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because ­someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever,” he said.

We already know just how effective these psychological techniques are when it comes to adults.
This week, Jane Garvey, host of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, revealed that she spends an average of three hours and 24 minutes a day staring at her smartphone.

But our children are so much more vulnerable than us adults.

Tech companies such as Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr are supposed to enforce a minimum user age limit of 13, but few bother — and research suggests three quarters of ten to 12-year-olds have a social media account. Should parents be worried? Absolutely, say the experts.

Getty – Contributor

There’s more to be worried about with 80,000 people in the UK posing a threat of some kind to children online – and the number is rising[/caption]

The National Crime Agency estimates that about 80,000 people in the UK pose a threat of some kind to children online — and the number is rising all the time.

It adds there has been a 700 per cent increase in the referrals it has received about people uploading images of child sexual abuse since 2013.

Just as alarming is the damaging effect that smartphones and social media have on children’s mental health.

According to Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, the number of US teens who took their own lives increased by 31 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

Having a teenage daughter is even more reason to be worried – a quarter of 14-year-old girls in the UK experience signs of depression which is linked to being online
Alamy

And if, like me, you have a teenage daughter there is even more reason to be worried.

Compared to the early 2000s, nearly twice as many American teenage girls now end their own lives. In the UK, a quarter of 14-year-old girls experienced signs of depression, according to a study of 10,000 young people.

Overall, Professor Twenge found that the generation she calls “iGen” — those born after 1995 — are much more likely  to suffer from mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.

“What happened that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt ­suicide and commit suicide?” she asks. “The sudden rise of the smartphone.”

The leaders of tech giants are enriching themselves beyond their ­wildest dreams — not just at our expense but at the expense of our children
Alamy

If you’re not convinced by the advice of the experts, just look at the behaviour of the people who’ve made their fortunes from peddling this digital crack cocaine.

Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, stopped his children from owning a phone until they were 14 and the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, would not let his kids play on iPads — even though he invented them.

Apple recently introduced a new update that tells you how much time you are spending on your screen each day.

That’s a step in the right direction, but don’t expect the company to do too much more. Last year, Apple sold nearly a quarter of a billion iPhones, helping to make it the world’s most valuable brand.

The leaders of the tech giants are enriching themselves beyond their ­wildest dreams — not just at our expense but at the expense of our children.

So it’s pretty clear they won’t be doing anything to help. And that means that, for now, it’s down to us.

We have a choice. We do not have to let our children use their services.
Maybe it’s time we didn’t.

  • Toby Young was formerly on the board of higher education watchdog, the Office for Students

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