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Why parents must control kids’ gadgets

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In the “Arkangel” episode of the popular series Black Mirror, an overprotective mother decides to implant a chip in her daughter’s brain so she can use her tablet and an app to monitor everything her little girl sees and feels. This system, originally designed as a parental control app, allows the mom not only to see what her child sees, but also monitor her emotions and moods, and even “filter” images that could harm her, so the girl sees them as pixelated.

We don’t need to go to the extreme of implanting a chip, as happens in the series, to analyse just how far these activities can be considered monitoring and at what point they turn into an invasion of the child’s privacy, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET South Africa.

Right now, we already have apps for monitoring geolocation, apps for controlling what content children can see on the internet and on TV, apps giving access to the microphone, so parents can listen to the sounds taking place where they are, and even apps that record everything that happens on the screen through video capture.

While these tools may seem like a great solution to all the problems the parent of a digital native could have, one thing is certain: Not all parental control apps work the same or have the same features. This is why it is essential to analyse them and choose those which best fit your family’s values.

Not only that, but a lot of tools which at first glance seem very useful to parents can turn out to be invasive for their kids, and this ends up provoking a different reaction to what the parent expected. Instead of feeling protected and contained, the child may feel trapped and start to seek ways to escape these controls.

The key is not about which control you choose, but rather in the conversation around it, and in accompanying the child in the digital world, just as we do in the physical world. It is about teaching them, through dialog and with the support of digital tools, what the dangers and risks of the internet are. What their responsibilities are, what they should and shouldn’t do, and how they can protect themselves.

Parental control apps can be really useful with younger children, when they first start to use a computer or get their first cell phone. However, as they enter early adolescence, these controls will become increasingly difficult to introduce or keep using. This means the key is to start removing the controls and gradually passing the responsibilities on as they grow older and learn how to behave in the digital world.

The goal should be for the child to enter adolescence fully empowered, understanding what risks exist on the internet and how to protect themselves, above all feeling confident and calm in the knowledge they can talk to their parents if anything worries them or makes them feel uncomfortable. To achieve this, the dialog and accompaniment need to start long before the child reaches this age, right when they are first entering the digital world.

What is the best way to install a parental control app?

The key to making parental control a tool that is useful both to parents and to their children lies in it being a form of care and not a form of imposed control. Once you have chosen the app that best fits your family’s values, it is best to install it and configure it together with your child. Before doing so, you need to decide on the basic rules for your child’s digital consumption, as well as their responsibilities. Explain to them that the parental control app is a way for mom and dad to look after them in the digital world and that you are going to install it together.

Here are some of the core features which are very useful for parental control and which help protect children without invading their privacy:

App control: Age-based filters are applied to manage which apps the child can access and use.

Web access control: These block inappropriate websites according to the child’s age, both individually and by category.

Time limits for fun and games: These set a maximum number of hours during which the child can play on their device. They also manage the times of day when it is used, for example, blocking access to games and apps during school hours or at bedtime.

Geolocation: These allow you to check the device’s current location at any given moment.

Reports: The purpose of reports is to be informed about the child’s general behaviour on the internet, so you can decide when the time comes to remove the controls. They include metrics which inform you about how the child uses the device, such as how long they spend on certain apps, time periods, and so on.

Lastly, these reports also can be very useful for knowing which apps your child uses most, or which are their favourites. Knowing their tastes and interests is a good starting point for conversations about taking care while online.

Remember, your child might have a better understanding than you of how an app works or may be more adept at using the device in general, but you know more about what risks and dangers could be lying in wait for them. So, what could be better than using the technology together, and being able to enjoy it safely?

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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