Choose privacy or security. The dilemma of American parents

Choosing privacy or security, the false dilemma of American parents

March calling for measures against violence with firearms in schools.

Sociologist Abraham Maslow, put to safety in second place in his pyramid of human motivations. The first is occupied by the satisfaction of needs related to survival.

In a country like the United States, where society Can't find a solution to shootings in educational establishments, three private companies appeared that using artificial intelligence and machine learning, they claim to be able to prevent such attacks. The price is not that expensive. The cost? Give a company complete information about activity on social networks and email accounts electronic devices for minors.

The three big brothers

The working modality of the three companies; Bark Technologies, Gaggle.Net and Securly Inc is similar. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning scan emails, texts, documents and social media activity. The objective is Find early signs of cyberbullying, sexting, drug and alcohol use, or depression. In addition, they seek find students who may pose a violent risk not only for themselves, but also for their schoolmates. Any resemblance to Minority Report o Person of interest it is pure coincidence.

In case you find red flags about potential problems, alerts school administrators, parents, and police officers. This depending on the severity of them.

In a pilot test carried out in 75 schools by the company Bark Technologies it was discovered a bomb threat and weapon attacks and some (unspecified) quite alarming problems

When a problem is detected, a text and / or email alert is sent to parents and schools, with recommended steps on how to solve it. A technological version of what happened when I was a kid. They would summon your parents and recommend that they take you to a psychologist, doctor or private teacher. Coincidentally they always had a very good one to recommend you.

Bark does not charge schools for the service. Your profit comes from what parents pay. The cost per family is $ 9 per month or $ 99 per year. For that money they are monitored up to 25 social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.

Multiply those 9 dollars a month by 2,6 million boys (A little less because the subscription is per family and many of them must be brothers) Of that mass of students you get between 35000 and 55000 alerts per month. How many really serious? 16 in 10 months

Another of the companies dedicated to controlling students is Gaggle.Net. They charge $ 6 per student per year. The firm assures have prevented 547 suicides last year and 447 since July of this year until now. On the other hand they say have prevented 240 assaults with weapons.

As a control for false positives, when artificial intelligence detects a potential problem it is referred to a human expert.

The third company, Securly, charges $ 3 per student per year for a service called Filter, with premium add-ons that can add about $ 2.50 per student to the cost. One of these plugins combines artificial intelligence with trained human analysts. Its great success? Find students looking for suicide methods on Youtube.

Choosing privacy or security Who said you have to choose?

The USA Today newspaper, where do we get the news from, raises the issue of privacy in a section of the article, but does not interview anyone other than the company or customer of the service. They could, for example, have quoted Benjamin Franklin:

Those who would give up an essential freedom, to get a little momentary security, deserve neither freedom nor security

What they do do is recognize the limitations of the system:

  • None of the systems used is perfect. There may be false positives and no real threats are detected.
  • The school you can only monitor those devices you own delivered to oe studentsl use of email accounts managed by the institution and services associated with them.
  • Students many times they know more about technology than their parents and they know social networks and messaging services that they will never hear about until they go out of style.

There seems to be no evidence thate these services allow to detect something that a good containment by families, teachers and other professionals in direct contact with young people can not do. Meanwhile, a lot of data is being generated on adolescent behavior that can be sold to other companies or stolen. Imagine that you are going to ask for a job, your future boss reads that you went to such a school, asks for the data and finds out that you wanted to commit suicide at the age of 14.


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  1.   Daniel said

    The attempts at control in the USA are incredible, perhaps the problem is more in the type of society that they have created in terms of family functioning, values, etc.

  2.   Autopilot said

    Franklin's quote made me think of GPL vs BSD. I leave it there.