Your kids are safe at school. Right?

By Jim Wilson
web posted February 12, 2001

While our kids are at school, should they accidentally get access to a computer, our caring government has mandated that every child be protected from all Internet evil. Protected by the kindly people that create software to protect kids from the Net.

While the kids are at home, caring parents are protecting them from objectionable material through the site blocking service or software for which they have forked over real dollars. The U.S. Government has even passed many laws to protect your children from being victimized by giving their e-mail address to evil merchants who might send them an advertisement.

Does all of the above sound a bit over-simplified? It is and it is not. Let me explain.

The goal of the site blocking services and software products is a worthy goal. Unfortunately none of the services actually deliver what they charge for. But it makes everyone feel better to know that money is being spent in the righteous battle even if there is no value returned and no protection offered.

The goal of the government is of the highest moral thinking.

Unfortunately that is where they stopped thinking and started writing. The CIPA, COPPA and COPA laws are so simple minded that they have had no positive effect on the web, and in fact have caused entire age groups of kids to have their favorite resources taken away. But at least our kids are no worse off than before the hysteria of content blocking fell on our heads as from a huge pigeon flying overhead. Right? Our kids at least aren't being spied on. Right?

The answer depends on your definition of spying. If you exclude government, military and business, than rest well tonight.

The Wall Street Journal printed an article about the leading provider of blocking services to schools. The company is N2H2. N2H2 claims to dominate the market with their service being used to monitor the Internet activities of 15 million students nationwide.

It seems that they are having a problem reaching profitability. You would think that since their service is required by law they would have priced the service at a profitable level. But guess what? They found a way to reach that sacred zone of profitability. They've started selling information about the surfing habits of those 15 million kids.

Know who the first customer was? Yep. The U.S. Government. In fact it was the U.S. Army. The info is packaged up and passed along to Roper Starch Worldwide who handles sales for this information under the brand name Class Clicks.

Everyone involved in this fiasco is running for cover. Claims that nobody has access to detailed, individual student records, except H2H2 and Class Clicks of course, and the Army really only wants to figure out how to advertise more effectively to kids. Besides, nobody can get this information unless they can afford to buy it.

So, it's OK if the Army spies on our kids? It's OK if the Army solicits our kids? It's OK if businesses with cash advertise to our kids. We are all safe because while N2H2 logs detailed histories on every student they monitor, they will never release that information because they hold it as a sacred trust. We can believe them. They would never let anyone have that detailed information unless N2H2 needs the money. And since the money from these sales will help N2H2 to better protect our kids from having their privacy invaded or exposed to targeted advertising messages, this is a good thing.

I've seen convoluted thinking before but this takes it to a whole new level of perfection. This episode may not do any real damage, but it is the leading edge of the infamous Washington Slippery Slope. Today N2H2. Tomorrow everyone else in the business. And each time it will involve more detailed data on an ever-expanding number of kids.

It is such a comfort to know that our Government is watching out for our kids.

Or are they just watching our kids?

Jim Wilson is the big brain behind JimWorld, the web's premier site for learning how to promote your web site. This is his first appearance in Enter Stage Right.

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