Tech for all

Tech has so many capabilities and possibilities, it is impossible to envisage what our society will look like in the future. It is exciting to contemplate that we are living in a time when the digital is opening new avenues and opportunities. However, as we become more digitised than ever, we cannot be complacent when thinking about the vulnerable, the elderly and the youth’s engagement with the cyber space. 

Developers of online content, apps, websites and programmes, especially those which collate and store data, need to be mindful about who the end user, accidental or intended, may end up being. There needs to be careful consideration of consequences should tech end up in the wrong hands or be used by an individual not able to properly give informed consent.

Ethics, legalities, and moral stand points             

I read with interest Alex Craig’s blog last week which highlighted a new children’s code brought in by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to help safeguard children online.

Interestingly, at the same time I was researching Raspberry Pis and their applications when I stumbled across a project which was specifically designed for and marketed at children. The Parent Detector helps children to set up a room guard, alerting the child as to when their parents have entered their bedroom when they are out of the house.

Initially I was so positive about this, thinking “brilliant, teaching the youth all about tech from an early age” but then my over analytical brain kicked in and I started asking all kinds of questions:

  • Are we creating a society which is encouraging children to “spy” on others? Members of the same family or not, could this be normalising toxic behaviours?
  • Should there be an age limit, or should parents have to sign disclaimers on their children’s behalf?
  • Do we know if recordings are kept? Where are they kept and who can access it?
  • Could accidental recordings of children be uploaded without parent’s knowledge to a cloud, accessible or hackable?

Technology can really change human behaviour. We know this, but this is particularly powerful when technology is designed for a younger generation which can drastically increase how it shapes long-term beliefs, attitudes, and personality.

It is not all doom and gloom

Let's not ignore the positives. These kinds of projects are helping the development and creativity of the next generation of developers. It opens the minds of young innovators to think about real world applications of ideas and notions they may have, giving a new and alternative viewpoint as to how we can use technology. 

As these new ideas and concepts become a reality, we do just need to think critically about how tech could be manipulated to ensure all reasonable safeguarding measures are assessed, implemented, and enforced, to maintain the safety of our society online now and in the future.

What do tech developers need to consider when they develop apps for children?

With pros and cons on both sides, there is a delicate balance to be struck. For developers, asking questions about how children interact with tech, what concerns parents, guardians or teachers may have about safety, can be helpful. All of this vital research should be done before and during the technological design process to help truly understand the impact of your product. 

You need to think like a user. 

But how do you think like an 8 year old growing up in this current world? You need to ask them!

So as you develop technologies, particularly catered for younger audiences, ask yourself: How could your technology be used positively or negatively? How could it impact the belief systems of a child now, and how will it continue to impact them in adulthood? Is this impact positive, negative, or neutral? What kind of society is your technology creating? How does that align with what you want to achieve?

These are just some of the questions to consider but, at the forefront of this thought, is that we need to understand the impact of our technologies; both the pros and cons, to decide what kind of world we want to create.