“Your Kindle is Updated”

I guess last night I must have left my Kindle with the WiFi turned on because when I looked at it this morning I noticed a new and unsolicited item at the top of the list. Very simply it said “Your Kindle is Updated”. And indeed it was. Parental controls had been installed on my Kindle as I slept. 

Following the original announcement that Amazon were planning to introduce parental controls on the Kindle I wrote a blog on the subject. Now it’s actually been done.  Bravo Amazon. In the previous blog I said some of the details of how Amazon were going to do it were unclear but today they aren’t. Read on.

Does anyone use a Kindle as a back up for internet access? I don’t think so.

I do not believe anyone or at any rate many people use their Kindle as an alternative source of web access. For one thing it only works in (high quality) greyscales and it cannot show any moving images. There are many better and easier ways of finding or viewing stuff on the internet.

However, anyone who implements parental controls on the Kindle will probably think it’s just as well that they don’t regard their Kindle as a back up device for going online. The way Amazon has done it, in effect, means you turn off any and all access to cyberspace. This even includes being able to go to Wikipedia which, otherwise, is there as a specific, separately listed option on the Kindle alongside Google search.

It’s the same with the book shop. If you want to prevent your child from being able to buy any pornographic books or view their cover pages you can only do that by turning off access to the bookshop altogether. They cannot then buy or look at anything in the store. The company makes clear you can continue buying books and sending them to the Kindle but that would have to happen via the Amazon web site which, obviously, would have to be accessed from another internet enabled device. I guess it would also entail going into the Kindle’s settings to turn on internet access temporarily in order that the new publication can be downloaded.

If you turn on parental controls the “Archived Items” section on your Kindle also works similarly. Access is either all on or all off.

No complaints

I have no complaints at all about Amazon’s solution. Some will think it is a little heavy handed. Maybe this is a temporary fix, a response to pressure from outside the company. Perhaps they are working on a more sophisticated  version of parental controls for the future. Either way this is a good step and Amazon’s decision to take it is to be commended because, as a matter of fact, at least in the short run it is likely to reduce their revenues, even if only marginally. In the long run it could lead to increased revenues as yet more people buy Kindles because they now feel it is a more congenial or age appropriate place.

Within the foreseeable future no system for protecting children online is ever likely to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time. It’s all a matter of degree, narrowing the angles. Even in this case if a parent sets the parental controls on the Kindle but tells the child the password or is careless about where they keep it, it could all end up being reduced to nought. If a child has access to the Amazon account or knows their parents’ credit card numbers, likewise the internet companies’ efforts and investment will have been in vain.

You can take a horse to water

There is an expression in English

You can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.

It has long been my view that in the internet space, in the context of safety generally and for children in particular, a company’s task is to bring us all to the water’s edge and perhaps in some instances even to push us into it. But certainly every grown up horse has a right to refuse to drink or even to get out of the water and on the contrary to run towards the scorching desert. Amazon pass the equine responsibility test with flying colours.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International, Technical Adviser to the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, which is administered by Save the Children Italy and an Advisory Council Member of Beyond Borders (Canada). Amongst other things John is or has been an Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, the Council of Europe and European Union Agency for Network and Information Security and is a former Board Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. He is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. More: http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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