Wednesday, 28 June 2017 22:35

Can Kiddle Really Keep Kids Safe Online?

Kiddle Appears Safe for Children, So What’s The Problem?

If you think you’re too busy to read the details of this report (but you shouldn’t), here is the summary: I won’t hand Kiddle to my child and go to sleep . One, she will keep calling me (read more to know why). Two, when she stops calling, she has probably switched to other browsers.

I have known about Kiddle for a while now and I didn’t think much of it until last week when everywhere I turned online, practically every parent, school owner and child safety enthusiast ‘recommended’ it, describing it in superlative terms that piqued my interest. So we used Kiddle in various ways. I started with mild stuff today’s children may want to check out (depending on age). I checked for Ben 10, Olamide, John Mikel Obi, Buhari. And then, I put my ‘silly child’ hat on to search for words that make parents look for ‘safe browsers’ like Kiddle. I searched for sex, Kim Kardashian Sex Tape, smoke, pregnancy, marijuana, etc. It was quite interesting.

What Kiddle Claims to Be

Contrary to what the brand colours and tag line suggest, Kiddle is NOT affiliated to Google and has never claimed to be. According to the organisation itself, Kiddle returns results for each query (in the order shown):
• Safe sites and pages written specifically for kids. Handpicked and checked by Kiddle editors.
• Safe, trusted sites that are not written specifically for kids, but have content written in a simple way, easy for kids to understand. Handpicked and checked by Kiddle editors.
• Safe, famous sites that are written for adults, providing expert content, but are harder for kids to understand. Filtered by Google safe search.
It also claims not to collect any personally identifiable information, and its logs are deleted every 24 hours. For me, this privacy policy is about a major advantage Kiddle has because on other points, it appears to come up short. Privacy is the biggest concern with Google as it is always snooping, profiling you. doing the best it can to nail your virtual and real identity, location, interests and other details it can monetise.

Kiddle Appears Safe, So What’s The Problem?

Concerns about online safety for children revolve around three issues:
1. Exposure to adult (or negative) content, including sex and violence
2. Access to predators and
3. Cyber bullying- which is related to number two.

On these three issues, Kiddle seems to be doing ok. So what’s the problem?
One, Kiddle seems to be trying so hard to be safe; it is sacrificing relevance for vigilance in many instances. The results are so filtered, they are almost useless- which is why I said, a child will continue to call you for help if they are stuck with this browser. There are millions of safe information on President Muhammadu Buhari but when I searched for Buhari on Kiddle, all I am offered is just one page of results. On this page, there are four adverts for news sites (two are in Hausa language). Asides these, there is only one result and it is from www.famous birthdays.com. This means all I get is the president’s birth date and one or two other trivia facts. Other results on the search for Buhari show me Shehu Shagari, Wole Soyinka, Jacob Zuma and wait for it- Nadia Buari (a Ghanaian actress). How does this help a child with an assignment on the president?

Also, when I searched for “How can I be pregnant”, being a curious 13-year old, I got this image below- adverts on how to use an abortion pill, another for a self-injectable contraceptive pill available here in Nigeria and then more information on “Signs that a female rat is pregnant”. I found that funny.

This tells me that if a child is seriously using this stuff for an assignment, she may get frustrated from the unrelated results and just sneak off to Google- which we know requires special CCTV cameras. Because when I searched for the exact same question from old Google, I got more than I bargained for. Right on the first page, I was offered tips on sex positions! On this point, Kiddle looks better than Google.

Two, Kiddle curates from a limited number of sources and this does not encourage diversity. You can hardly conduct a robust research with this thing. When I searched for “Am I gay?”, I got one article on homosexuality and genes, after which I get weather results for a city in Russia called Gay. Before, Kiddle used to respond to homosexuality and other LGBT-related requests with an error report but now they supply ‘safe’ answers from Trevor Project, a USA-based organisation which claims to be “the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24”. This infers that most answers on this subject are from the perspective of this organisation. A child raised on Kiddle may have narrow views on issues like this. Also, the cultural divide is still there. Many things Google knows about Nigeria, Kiddle does not.
My search for other ‘bad words’ like marijuana, Kim K sex Tape, Sex and porn all show an error report asking me to try again. This is a huge relief, but that depends on the child’s level of curiosity.

Three, there are loop holes in Kiddle's safety system with the ads that pop op for each request . A child can still get distracted and end up surfing game sites. Also, sometimes, the adverts are just not censored.  

Call me paranoid but the point is Kiddle is NOT a proxy parent. Kiddle is alright, the founders are likely doing their best but I repeat; it is not a proxy parent. Online safety is very thorny issue. If it were as easy as setting filters and custom search which Kiddle relies on, Google itself would probably have done it a long time ago.

Like Theresa Edwards, a Sheknows.com contributor said, “In reality, there's no such thing as a "completely safe" search engine for kids, just ones that are "safer." It's really awesome to have tools like Kiddle at your disposal when your child starts to need or want information from the Internet. But it's not foolproof, and we should never expect it to be”.
Even with safe browsers, children still need supervision and constant communication. In this age where we have 12-year olds planning to murder their classmates over grades and positions, you better believe that our children know way more than we think they do. I (unfortunately) spent the long vacation with someone who recently trained graduands of a reputable secondary school and the stories of how the girls help one another commit abortions in the hostels left me terribly rattled.

Depending on the age and exposure of your child, handing them Kiddle may insult their intelligence. They may just decide to play along with you and ask their questions elsewhere. Does this mean you shouldn’t use Kiddle? No, but when you do, pay as much attention as you would with Google. - the one for adults.

 

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