Toys ‘R Us shut its doors in June of 2018. Thank goodness for progress. In the U.S., businesses that stagnate usually find themselves as Toys ‘R Us did. To succeed, you need to lead. And one way to lead is by understanding your customers and users better than they understand themselves.
It’s something to think about as media members and politicians attack Instagram and owner Meta for collecting data on younger users. Instagram is suffering slings and arrows, along with possible fines for having younger users. Unknown is why.
In asking why, how interesting it would be to ask up-in-arms media members along with the grandstanding politicians they enable, if any of them ever read a Judy Blume novel, read Playboy without parental permission, watched an adult movie they weren’t supposed to before turning 18, or how much alcohol they consumed before reaching 21. About the latter, did fake IDs ever make their way into any of the wallets of those intent on making deadlines or careers related to “getting” Instagram or Meta?
There were and are all manner of laws on the books about alcohol purchases, there were “locks” for cable boxes of old, libraries made sure to not circulate excessively racy books and magazines, bars had bouncers, but none of this altered reality. Thinking about the former Soviet Union, samizdat is still uttered with regularity today as a reminder that even in murderous countries, what people weren’t supposed to see they still saw.
Really, teen and pre-teen usage of Instagram and Facebook is and was a statement of the obvious in much the same way that Penthouses, Budweisers, and porn found their way into the hands of those presently working to foist hundreds of millions worth of fines on Instagram and Facebook. The wonder is how the Instagram and Meta ankle-biters can do as they’re doing with a straight face.
Supposedly Instagram and Meta violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, which prohibits the collecting of information about children under 13. This isn’t serious. Not by a longshot. See above. While Instagram and Meta are wildly successful commercial entities, they’re not the police. There’s quite simply no way that they could ever successfully keep young people off of their platforms, nor is there any realistic way to know the age of those signing on, and whom they’re analyzing. Think about it.
After which, it should be said that the collection of information about users is similarly a statement of the obvious. Unlike their critics, Instagram and Facebook are in business. Successful businesses rely on repeat business, which means understanding and anticipating the needs of users is essential. Did they do this without parental permission? The bet here is that most parents, assuming they knew about Instagram “usage,” didn’t give it a thought. But if they did or do, it’s their job to police their kids in the way that it’s the job of parents to police (or not) what they read, look at, and drink.
Indeed, it can’t be stressed enough how much the critics want it both ways. They’re horrified that Instagram and others like it know so much about their users, but imagine if their knowledge included an ability to play cop for the parents.
As for the notion that algorithms could enable Instagram to “steer children toward harmful content, thereby harming their wellbeing,” please. While Instagram is like EVERY other business in its desire to earn repeat business, its size and brand is the surest sign that it couldn’t “steer children toward harmful content” without suffering major PR damage. Back to reality, kids of all ages know quite well how to find the “harmful content,” and always have.
Which is the point. Or should be. It’s popular modernly to say that “this time is different,” that unlike the myriad dangers that kids found their way to in the past (think again sex-themed novels, nudie magazines, beer!), the internet is really and truly a threat to their health and wellbeing. Wow, we must be a really rich country if we can be so ridiculous. What parents of old would have given for quaint online influences over the ones from cable TV and liquor stores that so dominated the past. Grow up, adults.