Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Glubble...for Kids!

By way of Stefanie Olsen at CNet, news today about a new Firefox browser add-on called "Glubble" that aims to help "parents keep their kids in a safe Web-surfing sandbox." Glubble--short for "global bubble" (as in keep your kids in a bubble)--launched in BETA form on Tuesday, and is described by Olsen as:
[E]ssentially a white list, or collection of pre-approved sites, for the Web browser. By downloading the Firefox plug-in, parents can control their kids' experience online by choosing which sites they can visit and with whom they can chat. Designed for children under 12, the browser extension filters out all other sites, and maintains personalized preferences for parents and individual children. It even offers a version of Google that searches only the pre-approved sites.

Eek! That could either take ages for parents and kids to negotiate and pre-program/customize (and update!), or else result in some major censoring of valuable tools and information, numerous parent-child misunderstandings and frustrations, oversights, bias (intentional/unintentional), etc. etc. Even the kids-safety people seem skeptical about the effectiveness of this type of blocker-tool. While allowing that Glubble could "be helpful for younger children," founder Larry Magid opined that,
"At some point, kids need to be given a longer leash with guidance so they can develop critical thinking skills and get training to be safer as they get older. Also, a savvy 11-year old could just launch Internet Explorer."

They certainly could.

In other, related news, the Kaiser Family Foundation has just launched a new report revealing that parents feel they are gaining control over their kids' media consumption and exposure. While parents are still calling for tighter restrictions (particularly governmental) on violence and "inappropriate" content in media, they nonetheless feel more involved and have a better understanding of their children's media activities than they did in 1998. From the report press release:
Parents are particularly confident in monitoring their children’s online activities. Nearly three out of four parents (73%) say they know "a lot" about what their kids are doing online (among all parents with children 9 or older who use the Internet at home). Most parents whose children engage in these activities say they check their children’s Instant Messaging (IM) "buddy lists" (87%), review their children’s profiles on social networking sites (82%), and look to see what websites they’ve visited (76%) after they’ve gone online.

Internet filters and cyber-nannies have existed for awhile, and Glubble doesn't seem to offer that much more in terms of ensuring kids' maintain access to fair information, freedom of expression and serendipitous opportunities for creativity and community. I'll refer you again to Boyd and Jenkins' discussion of DOPA for further discussion of some of the dangers of automated filtering technologies. In the meantime, the finding that parents are becoming more engaged and cyber-literate is an extremely encouraging development...particularly for regulatory strategies that incorporate dialogue, negotiation and parent-child participation over a technologically-enforced rationalization (and, let's face it, most often also commercialization) of kids' online experience.


Pete McDonald said...

Your comments on the product are great. But as a beta user, you should try the product and play around a bit. It's quit open approach, which does reflect some of your concerns and it does seem to fit some additional needs. The product does not look suitable for an 11 year old

Anonymous said...

Hi. Check out the beta. It is much more than a white-list. It starts with a huge, segmented, pre-checked list of sites. You can then add or modify the list and you can share with other users. This makes it easy to share trusted sites with friends, family and others you trust. It is NOT the typical walled-garden approach you seem to think it is.

Sara M. Grimes said...

Touche - I will definitely check out the BETA and find out about these features firsthand - I'm sure that with sufficient dialogue (between the kids and parents) and enough time put into customization there is potential to use these tools effectively, but I suppose my concern is that it becomes all too easy to use them ineffectively or even unfairly. When allowances and prohibitions are built into the technological design, opportunities for negotiation, alternative sources and discovery are limited by design. But as you've both said, I should check out the beta before making conclusions.