Algorithms affect what children see: How to protect them

How algorithm technology affects what our children see online and how to protect them

How easily a video entitled "What I eat in a day" can lead our children to an online forum that is pro-anorexic (pro-ana), that promotes the ultra-thin or bony body or even a thread of conversation with self-harm tips or other extreme content?

kids online

When we talk about behavioral and mental health problems related to surfing the internet, our thinking usually goes straight to cyberbullying (cyberbullying). But there is something else to worry about - the access.

The search engines have given us easy access to more and seemingly always fresh sources of content that can do just as much, if not more, damage than cyberbullying.

It is understood that search engines as well as personal computers, the Internet and the World Wide Web are not inherently dangerous, but we have every reason to be careful in their use. Because, while we have seen great leaps in their development and operations, we have not understood as users of technology the dangers that accompany them.

Some of the most troubling issues have their roots in algorithms, whose job is to make it easier for users to find the content they're looking for in Internet.

In this context, η global digital security company ESET talks about the potential dangers to which minor users may be exposed due to search engine algorithms but also about what we can do to protect children, minors or even ourselves.

When searching at Internet it becomes a personal matter

Algorithms work tirelessly to bring users content they think they might like

But the internet is a huge space that gives different groups and communities the opportunity to meet and strengthen their influence for good and for bad.

To understand how directly correlated there is what we are looking for in search engines and how this can lead to problems, let's consider how easy a video with a title "What do I eat in a day" can lead us to an online forum that is in favor of anorexia (pro-ana), on an online forum messages thinspiration (a trend promoted by the extremely thin or bony body) or even in a thread with self-injury tips or other extreme content.

This issue has now attracted the attention not only of the popular media, but also certain governments recognizing the risk that this entails. THE story of the 14-year-old Molly Russell who, according to her father, committed suicide influenced by social media, was one of the first to bring the issue to light and make people talk.

And while the big social networking platforms are trying to protect their users, their efforts are certainly lagging behind in the face of rapid business and technology growth.

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Until today, some US states have undertaken to protect the most vulnerable. In early March 2022, lawmakers in the US state of Minnesota entered the voting process law banning social networking platforms from using algorithms to suggest content to people under 18. However, this initiative met with reactions. Technology industry lobbyists in the United States have argued that passing the bill would violate the First Amendment to the US Constitution, preventing companies from offering useful content to users and forcing companies to collect more personal data about their users.

Another argument is that the law, no matter how well-intentioned, will undermine parental choice and restrict access to useful technologies.

The Internet is not the library of your Municipality

One thing can lead to another and a child, a minor or even an adult can accidentally or intentionally see content on social media, online forums, websites and online and ads, which can be harmful to him.

To better serve users, both search engines and social media started using predictive search and take her exploit financially - thus, The algorithms used by search engines began not only to find content, but also to suggest it.

Major social platforms and search companies are using these technological developments to secure revenue through advertisements (for example), but also to "feed" users with content that has the ability to expand (artificially) their interests. This way, the search engine presents users with "pages for you" or "suggested pages".

This can be particularly problematic for children and young adults, of whom interests and personality may not be fully formed.

This pattern also creates opportunities for the immediate and future economic exploitation of children and their interests.

What can we do to protect minors?

It's natural for kids to want to spend time online, but they must not be completely out of control.

What parents and educators can do is first become aware of the dangers lurking on the internet for minors and know how to help them.

Also a great one tool that will help parents monitor their child's behavior online is the Parental control (parental Control).

In addition to setting limits on how long your child can access certain apps and websites, Parental control may also block specific content types and addresses URL for both computers and mobile devices.

Since websites can be categorized according to keywords you need to block the categories that you consider inappropriate for your child's age group. Of course, adult websites that feature pornography and gambling should be excluded for all age groups.

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For devices Android, there is also a function SafeSearch that filters search engine results so you do not have to worry about search engines suggesting inappropriate content that your child is not ready to see.

You can also put manually blacklisted websites and applications that you consider inappropriate for your child. The same goes for creating a whitelist of appropriate sources.

Finally, regardless of whether you start using it Parental Control, is even more important to educate your children about the content that exists on the internet and regularly discuss with them about the online world and the world offline.

Talking to your children is one of the best tools you can give them to protect yourself. Education on every subject must begin with the family, and this is especially true of personal and private matters and our online presence.

Children and minors should be treated with respect and educated about the choices we make for them. Talking to them about their online behavior can make them feel that we are invading their privacy, so be sensitive and make sure they feel that you are listening and understanding them.

For the record: search engines are in their infancy

The first internet search engines were created in the 1990s, after his successful proposal Tim Berners-Lee for the World Wide Web. Most of their basic development took place in the 90s. However, modern search engines, like the Google, can automatically (self-optimized) their capabilities, with real-time tuned algorithms and daily improvements to the user experience.

Before Google become the preferred search engine, there was another giant, the Yahoo! Search. The Yahoo! was founded in 1994 and was one of the pioneers of the internet, offering a hierarchical list of websites organized by category - Yahoo! Directory.

First, the search engine Yahoo! Search could only search in this directory- later, she started using her own website crawler to search the web and, later, show results from other search engines, such as Google and Bing.

One of the reasons why Yahoo failed was that it prioritized old, trusted websites over new and more relevant search engines. On the contrary, the Google brought fresh content to its users, making it increasingly popular.

Over time, search engines have evolved, improved, and even entered mobile phones. Users, many of them children, have the whole thing at their disposal at all times Internet. This also means that the chances of accessing or downloading inappropriate or harmful content are very high.

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