University of Buffalo to create new AI systems to help young children with speech and/or language processing challenges

The National Science Foundation has given the University at Buffalo (UB) a grant of $20 million for launching a national centre to create artificial intelligence systems that can recognise and help children with speech and/or language processing difficulties. Children ages 3 to 10 who are more likely to lag behind in their academic and socioemotional development—problems made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic—will receive services due to this endeavour.

Epic Games to pay $520 million penalty in USA over privacy violations and ‘dark patterns’ cases

The US Federal Trade Commission and the creator of Fortnite, Epic Games, have reached a settlement which would see the company pay a total of US$ 520 million in penalties over allegations that it had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and used dark patterns to trick players into making unintentional purchases.

For allegations related to collecting personal information from Fortnite players under the age of 13 without getting consent from their parents or caregivers, Epic has agreed to pay a US$ 275 million penalty. Furthermore, the FTC determined that Epic’s default settings for its live text and voice communication features, as well as its system of pairing children with adults/strangers to play Fortnite with, exposed youngsters to harassment and abuse. Epic is also required to adopt strong privacy default settings for children and teens, ensuring that voice and text communications are turned off by default.

In a second case, the business conceded to pay US$ 245 million to refund users for its dark patterns and billing practices.

Frequent use of digital devices for calming young children might affect their development

Mobile devices are frequently used to keep young children entertained or calm. A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health investigates the longitudinal, bidirectional associations between the frequency of using mobile devices to calm young children as reported by parents and children’s executive functioning (EF) and emotional reactivity.

Increased use of mobile devices for calming children aged 3 to 5 years was found to be associated with decreased executive functioning and increased emotional reactivity at baseline in this cohort study of 422 parents and 422 children. However, only emotional reactivity had bidirectional, longitudinal associations with device use for calming at 3 and 6 months of follow-up. The associations were discovered to be stronger in boys and children who had a higher temperamental surgency.

The findings of this study suggest that using mobile devices to calm young children may displace their opportunities to learn emotion-regulation strategies over time.

New evidence revealed the disparity in internet access for children in five African countries

A recent UNICEF research brief estimated the level of internet access for children in Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania, as well as the most common barriers to connecting children to the digital world and their consequences. The report classified these common barriers into three categories: infrastructure-related, resource-constrained, and adult permission-related. According to the findings, 90% of children in the five countries surveyed reported having at least one barrier to regular internet access. The most frequently mentioned barrier was the high cost of data.

The report identified three priorities for addressing the digital divide and enabling equal access to digital connectivity: investing in electricity and connectivity with a focus on marginalised communities and users; lowering the cost of connectivity and devices; and addressing cultural and social norms as barriers to address for children and adolescents.

WHO report recommends strengthening evidence base to monitor digital health transformation

Despite the positive role digital health has played in improving healthcare access, safety, and quality, a recent WHO report on ‘Monitoring the implementation of digital health‘ points out that digital health programmes and interventions are often not monitored or evaluated. It states that existing metrics for measurement and evaluation tend to be neglected in the rapid evolution of digital health. Making available information more accessible at national and international levels, addressing the variability in digital health monitoring, paying closer attention to monitoring digital health inequalities, and addressing the potential risk of exacerbating inequalities among the most vulnerable, including young children, are all necessary steps in improving monitoring activities.

New report calls for digital tech to be developed and regulated in ways that maximise benefits for young users

The US National Scientific Council on Adolescence recommended in its report titled Engaging, Safe, and Evidence-Based: What Science Tells Us About How to Promote Positive Development and Decrease Risk in Online Spaces that digital technology is designed and regulated in ways that maximise positive, equitable benefits for all young adolescents and limit potential harm. Digital technology changes for young users should be supported by data from developmental research and consistent with already accepted standards.

The research also advocates for better-educating kids, parents, product designers, teachers, legislators, and other stakeholders about the advantages and disadvantages of using digital technology. More evidence-based approaches will make it possible to ensure that early adolescent use of digital technology promotes wellbeing and constructive development while minimising exposure to harm.

Four evidence-based recommendations are advanced by the report:

  1. Digital technology should promote healthy development and wellness.
  2. Digital technology should be designed and used in a way that is safe for early adolescents.
  3. The design and evaluation of digital technology used by young adolescents should take into account the best available research and advance it. Any digital technology platforms that may pose real health risks to young adolescents should be subjected to independent evaluation by experts in developmental science, mental health, and other relevant fields.
  4. All early adolescents should have consistent access to the level of digital connectivity and devices needed to participate fully in their education and learning.

UNICEF releases child-centered digital framework to address inequalities in children’s lives

Given that digital exclusion mirrors and magnifies existing social, cultural, and economic inequities and pushes vulnerable children closer to the edges of marginalisation, the digital transformation of society has an uneven consequence on all children. To address the effects of the shifting digital and governance landscape, as well as emerging and embedded technologies, on children’s experience with digital technologies, a future-oriented framework for an equitable digital future was proposed by UNICEF. The framework highlights the need to move from digital inclusion to digital equality.

The framework can be used as a foundation for developing and evaluating digital inclusion policies, as a roadmap for structuring the involvement of pertinent stakeholders in achieving digital equality for children, and as a tool to assist in the design of policies and interventions by state authorities, civic groups, and the private sector. For this framework to effectively respond to new trends and technologies, a wider range of stakeholders must be engaged in its implementation.

UNICEF has released a child-centred digital framework to address inequalities in children’s lives

Given that digital exclusion mirrors and magnifies existing social, cultural, and economic inequities and pushes vulnerable children closer to the edges of marginalisation, the digitisation of society has an uneven consequence on children. To address the effects of the shifting digital and governance landscape, as well as emerging and embedded technologies, on children’s experience with digital technologies, a future-oriented framework for an equitable digital future has been proposed in this new UNICEF report. This framework changes ‘digital inclusion’ to ‘digital equality’. For this framework to respond effectively to new trends and technologies, a wider range of stakeholders must be engaged.

The framework can be used as a foundation for developing and evaluating digital inclusion policies, as a roadmap for structuring the involvement of pertinent stakeholders in achieving digital equality for children, and as a tool to assist in the design of policies and interventions by state authorities, civic groups, and the private sector.