For Americans, first and foremost, children must be safe. Our society has become so concerned with this issue that we have created safety and child protection standards that have become increasingly counterproductive.
If we are to create a virtual playground that meshes with the physical and ensures agency for children, the security of the digital assets is the crux of the challenge. A clear statement of intentions is required. Here is what we propose:
- Studies of early childhood development have conclusively established that the benefits of play are directly proportional to the child’s control. In the virtual playground, then, the goal must be for the data to be visible to children so they can regulate what is collected. This rule means that what is now invisible in the ambient digital environment must become apparent to its occupants.
- Gamification has been shown to be highly motivating. This power must reside with the child and not the platform. Children have the right to control what is interesting to them, the degree of their engagement, and how they share their participation.
- The primary function of the virtual playground is primarily to enhance play between children. The platform collects data on:
- The frequency and length of utterances, but not the content
- The proximity of children to each other
- The location of children in the physical space
- The smart objects the children are using
- Biometric data, if allowed by the child
- Collecting this data assumes when children are together and talking, they are for the most part playing, and having fun. The data shows which features in the environment and portable devices support this behavior.
- The data collected is anonymous. The only person who has access to information about a child is the child. They have sole control of how and if they wish to share this information.
- The data is analyzed within 24 hours and then deleted. Only the results are maintained.
There are many examples of benign data collection that motivate the users of a platform. For example, as a person with dyslexia, I can write much more clearly by using the Grammarly Writing Assistant. I consistently score in the upper 90s in productivity and novel word use. Predictably my accuracy is in 30s. It pleases me to see my scores improve. I appreciate that the platform helps me modify my communications so that I am better able to express myself.
The Virtual Playground can follow this example for others with disabilities. For example, an autistic child can discover how much they are communicating with other children. A child with mobility impairments can see how they have progressed in being more active.
Finally, it is predictable that a Virtual Playground platform that collects data is an attractive target for those who want to monetize or corrupt it. Isolating the platform from external penetration is of utmost urgency. The details of the protection put in place cannot, for obvious reasons, be disclosed. To be a trusted resource both the credentials of the security systems and the oversight provisions are provided.