Tesco drop a clanger


In a landmark speech at the NSPCC’s offices on 22nd July, referring to his expectations of the UK’s ISPs, David Cameron said the following

By the end of this year…..the settings to install family friendly filters will be automatically selected; if you just click “Next” or “Enter”, then the filters are automatically on.

The Government are quite clear about what they think Britain’s major domestic internet access providers should be doing.

It’s glossy, it’s fab, BUT

Tesco have just brought out a glossy new tablet which they are marketing under their own brand. It is called a Hudl and sells at £119 (or less if you factor in Clubcard points).

The technology packed into the elegant little device is top class. It connects to the internet via WiFi. The price means it is very likely to end up in hundreds of thousands of children’s and young people’s Christmas stockings.

But the Hudl does not do what Mr Cameron wants.

OK, in this context Tesco are not an ISP but with a Hudl they are in highly proximate territory. Providing access to the internet is a key function of a tablet.

Straight out of the box if you only click Next or Enter, depending on the WiFi connection that happens to be available, you can be right in among the hard core porn and all sorts of other kinds of adult content within seconds.

Tesco have dropped a clanger. This is all the more surprising because elsewhere in the forest Tesco have shown considerable leadership when it comes to online safety.

For example, the free internet access that Tesco makes available in its stores blocks access to adult content. So why did Tesco decide to exempt the Hudl? It’s inexplicable. If they were merely selling another company’s tablet that would perhaps be understandable but the Hudl is theirs from top to bottom, inside and out.

It is true that many other low-priced tablets on the market may not be any better than a Hudl when it comes to online child safety. Argos, in particular, might need to look again at how they present their low-priced offering. It’s called MyTablet. Argos are targeting the 8-13 year old market, in other words they are aiming at some very young children.

However, the fact that other tablet providers are also getting it wrong is not terribly reassuring either for the public or for Tesco. Tesco is a flagship British company that prides itself on its family focus. People expect more from it. It goes with being top dog. It’s hard to believe Tesco simply copied other companies’ poor behaviour and thought that would put them in the clear. Tesco do not normally go looking for an alibi for inaction.

An unavoidable page

I gave the Hudl a run through.When you turn it on you are taken to an unavoidable page which asks if you are

Sharing your Hudl with a child?

My guess is, particularly on Christmas Day morning, and probably most other mornings of the year, the answer to that question will often be

No, this is mine

The betting must be that in a great many homes the Hudl won’t be shared at all. Very many kids will have their own.

But let’s assume for the moment that you are the parent and you haven’t just given the gift wrapped box to your child and left them to it. You sit down and go through the set up yourself. What does Tesco say next?

If you plan to share your Hudl with a child we recommend you take a few precautions to ensure they stay safe while using the web and access apps unsupervised.

You are then asked if you want advice on these precautions.  Obviously you are free to say no. If you click yes you are taken to a wordy page with six separate sub-headings. This is the moment when eyes will glaze over or the exigencies of daily life will appear more pressing. Murder and mayhem have broken out in the living room. You might resolve to come back and check out the safety stuff later, but you won’t. Little Johnnie or little Jennie will be off on their voyage of discovery with potentially disastrous results.

3 and 4 year olds are taking the tablets

The latest Ofcom study found that 37% of 3 and 4 year olds are going online and 9% are using tablets. Both those numbers are going up and with the appearance of the Hudl and other low priced tablets my guess is they will each start going up faster.

It’s difficult to see how a model which relies heavily on media literacy can work with 3-4 year olds or even the 8 year olds that Argos are pursuing. The approach Tesco and Argos have adopted puts absolutely everything on the shoulders of parents. It creates a single point of failure whereas we know from countless surveys that substantial numbers of parents want help with these matters.

Anyway, what are the six headings Tesco offers to advise us on?

Try an app

Here it is suggested we consider using one of many parental control apps available from Google Play

Filter content

This refers to apps that can limit the sort of content that might be accessed via the Hudl

Be sure

This references the importance of creating separate password protected profiles for kids

Play safe

Recommends using passwords to prevent unauthorised content or services being bought via in-app purchases

Be aware

Here we are advised to familiarise ourselves with maturity ratings used by different content and service providers

Safe search

Google’s browser Chrome is pre-installed on the Hudl. We are advised to set its search function to Safe Search.

Plain English is not enough

No question Tesco have done a heroic job at keeping the language simple but the number of different things they draw our attention to rather goes in the opposite direction.

There is also a brilliant video that Tesco have put out about the Hudl. Child safety gets two rather perfunctory mentions. Hmmm.

By the way too often Tesco refer to how we might make the Hudl “safe”. Wrong. The word they should be using is “safer”.

Moreover the last of their six point list, on Safe Search, is highly misleading. Tesco do not remind the reader that anyone could download and start using another browser i.e. that they could and might desert Chrome altogether and go to Firefox or any of what looked like the nearly one hundred other browsers listed following a stroll around Google Play. Once you stop using Google all the benefits of Safe Search are lost.

Tesco were clearly aware of the online child safety dimension, so how did they manage to make such a hash of it? Why didn’t they pre-install and turn on any of the software packages or apps they recommend parents look at?

The line about lulling parents into a false sense of security just doesn’t wash. We have been living in a world of “un-lulled” parents since the internet began. That hasn’t worked out very well in far too many households. Isn’t it time to try a different approach?

Tesco and Argos could have pre-installed and activated child safety software then given parents the same or a similar level of detailed advice about how to get rid of it or modify its settings if it was found that the initial offering did not exactly meet their children’s needs.

That would be doing things the right way around. Parents should not have to jump through hoops to make a device safer for their children. At a technical level it should be as safe as it can be from the moment it is first turned on. Just as Mr Cameron said in relation to ISPs.

Must try harder.

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 and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised. http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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