Instagram Kids: technological advancement must shift from usefulness to safety.

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Instagram Kids: technological advancement must shift from usefulness to safety.


Facebook has announced the cancellation of its Instagram Kids initiative. This comes after accusations that the social media giant commissioned – and kept hidden – internal study that discovered Instagram was harmful to young people's mental health.

The study's results, not to mention the fact that they were concealed, have only fueled the project's initial backlash. "Instagram for kids," one early headline said, "the social networking site no one asked for."

In the field of information technology development, who has asked for what is an intriguing question. In the late 1980s, studies revealed that the history of computers was arguably one of increasing demand rather than responding to necessity. And social media is no exception: it has evolved from being the thing we didn't realise we needed to becoming ingrained in everything we do. It can also be a source of danger, according to research.

Children are at the centre of this conflict between utility and safety. They are the future creators of our technology, inheriting our blunders, but they are also utilising it right now. And they are the future clients of technology corporations. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri has been quick to defend the relevance and significance of a children's edition of the app. But can we trust big tech to provide us with what we truly require rather than manipulate us into consuming what they need to sell?

The emergence of usability

The notion of user experience has now taken over information technology thought. However, the first home computers were far from helpful or useable for the common individual. This was largely due to the fact that they were still meant for skilled specialists: they expected competency in whoever turned them on.

Parents were urged to embrace the educational possibilities of home computers beginning in the early 1980s. They considered the devices as beneficial to their children's education and future employability. However, early gadget adoption was more conceptual than practical.

From the user experience to the user's safety

Of course, technology has changed the way we live, communicate, engage, and work. Households are loaded with useable, useful, and being utilised devices and applications. Indeed, keeping devices and everything contained inside them in use is key to IT design: the user is a customer, and the technology is built to foster – even solicit – that habit.

User experience design is the process of determining how to deliver a meaningful and relevant experience for someone utilising a digital product or service, ranging from gadgets to social media platforms. Tech titans talk about satisfying our expectations before we even know what they are. And the data designers collect on us — and our children – is how they know what we want before we do.

A rush of recent cases, however, illustrate the threshold in terms of user injury that such profit-driven digital innovation influenced by our personal data has crossed. These include the complaint brought against TikTok by Anne Longfield, the former Children's Commissioner for England.

Longfield's lawsuit claims that the video-sharing site collects personal information from its underage users for targeted advertising reasons, including date of birth, email address, phone number, geographical data, religious or political convictions, and browsing history.

The current issue is that privacy is under threat because profits trump safety.

The usability movement, which began in the late 1980s, must now give way to what computer scientists call usable security: human-centric design, where safety comes first. According to our findings, many web applications are unfit for usage. They are unable to strike a balance between usefulness and security (and privacy).

We need to look at the possibility of open-source designs — those that are not motivated by profit – as alternatives. And we must instil ethical consciousness in young minds: they are the programmers of the future. Understanding the ethical consequences of what is being programmed is just as vital as learning to code.

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