Updated Feb 6, 2018

Kids are flooding the internet

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Data: eMarketer; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Why it matters: Silicon Valley has bet its future on younger users, but has come under fire recently for building products that critics say aren't safe for children.

Dylan Collins, CEO of SuperAwesome, a technology platform used to power kid-safe digital engagement for hundreds of companies, argues that a bias among engineers towards building products for adults has led to some of these problems:

"Some companies' engineering rationale only works when applied to adult use cases. When released in the children's space, those same engineering decisions don't work."

For example, most adult-based services, like YouTube, use moderators to address bad content that isn’t caught by algorithms and automation, Collins says. That approach, which still leaves on bad content on the platform until a human catches it, doesn’t cut it when the target audience is kids.

  • This bias also comes into play when companies name their products for children. "The best way to build a product that is ignored by 7- to 12-year-olds is to use ‘kids’ in the name," Collins says.

Kids internet access began to increase when Apple launched the iPad in 2010. Their screen time has only increased since then.

  • Forty percent of children ages 0-8 have their own tablet device, up from less than 1% in 2011, according to Common Sense Media's national "Media Use by Kids" census.
  • Ten percent of children age eight or under own a "smart" toy that connects to the internet and nine percent have a voice-activated virtual assistant device available to them at home.

The bigger picture: Critics say tech warps the minds of users who aren't mature enough to use it well — and gathers their data. "The race to keep children’s attention trains them to replace their self-worth with likes, encourages comparison with others, and creates the constant illusion of missing out," says the Center for Humane Technology, a group launched this week by engineers and investors.

What's next: Critics of Big Tech are starting to use the public health concerns about its products to advance their advocacy in Washington and the Valley. Common Sense Media is hosting a conference Wednesday in D.C. to explore how tech companies manage children's tech addiction, featuring lawmakers that have been friendly to tech in the past.

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