Privacy—and Trust

Parents of children in the People’s Republic of China have a new “aid.”

ByteDance is peddling a “study lamp” that lets teachers and parents constantly monitor children, ostensibly while the children are doing their schoolwork.

The lamps come equipped with two built-in cameras—one facing the child and another offering a bird’s-eye view from above—letting parents remotely monitor their children when they study. There is a smartphone-sized screen attached to each lamp, which applies artificial intelligence to offer guidance on math problems and difficult words. And parents can hire a human proctor to digitally monitor their children as they study.

What else, though, is ByteDance monitoring, what other data is ByteDance collecting about the kids, the things they’re doing, with whom they’re doing it, parents’ handling of their kids? And passing it on to the PRC’s intelligence community under that 2017 law?

There’s also the question of trust. Not trust in Big Brother—or Uncle Xi—but trust between children and parents, and the ability of children to trust at all. What message are parents sending to their own children when the parents—and other authority figures, known to the children to be there at the parents’ request—insist on being, constantly and immediately, over the kids’ shoulders to be sure those kids are behaving properly? That the kids are fundamentally untrustworthy, maybe? That they’re unworthy in some way?

And there’s the creation of dependency on instant answers.

Some Chinese media outlets and parents have also criticized the idea of placing an interactive touch screen in front of children as they study, warning that the lamp would make children accustomed to seeking easy answers from technology.

And what brave new world for us when ByteDance brings these…devices…to America?

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