Digital tiny tots rule the networked world. However, concerns are growing, not only on what happens to youngsters' personal details online, but also on what effect exposure from a seemingly endless conveyor belt of smart devices is having on such young minds.
Generation Alpha are categorised as those born between 2010 and 2025, nicknamed 'Millennials on steroids', and renowned for integrating tech as second nature into their lives. Four-fifths are now believed to have a mobile/online presence by as young as two-years-old. Just think of those grandkids, still in nappies, crawling around tightly clutching their favourite tablet. Woe betide any attempts to prise it out of their sticky mitts as they casually switch apps.
Now, after 15 years of campaigning, the UNICEF-backed Technology Coalition has, out-of-the-blue, been told that they finally have the support of tech giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse online.
Sound too good to be true? Yes, there is a twist. The volte face follows a new planned US bill encapsulated in the EARN IT Act (short for 'Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies'), requiring tech companies to follow best practice at all times. However, according to reports, the tech leviathans are falling into line amidst claims they can earn legal immunity from any troubling content posted.
Time will tell, but it also looks as if such a laudable attempt to come to the aid of youngsters on the internet is also becoming embroiled in party politics. It is America after all, with an election looming.
A short while ago, delegates at US-headquartered Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams' global conference, staged in Edinburgh, heard how unfettered exploitation of adolescent online life can prove toxic, especially uninvited attention from cyberbullies and trolls. No-one really knows how much their entire life is algorithmically classified, tracked and harvested by Facebook, Amazon and Google for commercial ends, giving lip service to privacy as billions of the social media dollar keeps rolling in.
Keynote speaker, cyber-psychologist and author, Monica Whitty, warned of a 'digital divide', where adults and adolescents each display a very different online understanding and experience. Grown-ups have known a world before the net but children grow up with a range of technologies used to educate them, build friendships, and with which they learn about their identities. The cyberjury remains out about just how to balance such a relentless immersion involving innumerable smart IT devices with, for example, a lack of face-to-face contact.
However, there's hope yet. Scotland's newest high school installed some damage limitation: Perth's Bertha Park is requiring students to lock away their phones in a social media 'detox' drive and reboot doing other things in their digital age – like ride a bike, swim and hold a conversation.