Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Turned off by PC-Turnoff Week

Filed under
Sci/Tech

PC-Turnoff Week, which begins Monday with the goal of persuading parents to drag their children off the computer for seven days, is the wrong answer to a serious problem.

What's more, the organizers of PC-Turnoff Week have a potential conflict of interest: They also sell software that limits computer use by children, and they haven't done enough to draw a clear line between their business and their non-profit efforts.

The problem, at least, is clear.

Home computers are tremendously beneficial for children, providing everything from almost infinite resources for school reports to an anonymous way to gather health information on topics too sensitive to discuss with Mom and Dad.

But computers can also be a liability, sucking children into addictive and time-wasting fascination with instant messaging or violent games.

Meanwhile, we're deluged with confusing and sometimes contradictory statistics.

A study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project released Wednesday said a remarkable 87 percent of teens from ages 12 to 17 are online, and 75 percent of them use instant messaging. Some 31 percent of online teens get health information from the Web.

A joint study by Stanford and Johns Hopkins published earlier this month found elementary-school students with televisions in their bedrooms scored 8 to 10 percent lower on achievement tests. Yet students who used a home computer scored higher.

I talked with several experts this week and got consistent advice: Parents need to understand and monitor how their children use computers.

Easier said than done. The online world is full of dark places only a few mouse clicks away from child-appropriate sites. Instant messaging in moderation helps children develop social skills, but can interfere with homework and family time if overdone.

Simply getting rid of the computer is not a reasonable option; it would be like stopping your children from ever going outside just because they could fall down and skin their knees.
Which brings me back to PC-Turnoff Week.

The organizers say the goal is ``to encourage parents to turn off their children's computer for one whole week during the summer. We also encourage parents to limit excessive use by their children throughout the year as well.''

While no one could argue against limiting excessive computer use, turning the computer off for a week does nothing to genuinely help parents.

``This is not a realistic approach, because what happens when the week is over?'' said Dina Borzekowski, an assistant professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and co-author of the study that found children benefit academically from home computers.

PC-Turnoff Week (www.pcturnoff.org) was created in April by business partners Joe Acunzo and Mark Sicignano of Branford, Conn. The pair also run SoftwareTime, a company that sells a $39.95 piece of software called ComputerTime, launched last year, for setting time limits on computer use by children. Yet ComputerTime offers fewer features than more established products at about the same price, such as Cybersitter, CyberPatrol and Net Nanny.

The home page of PC-Turnoff Week includes a prominent box on the left side saying ``PC-Turnoff Recommends . . .'' with a big point-and-click icon for ComputerTime. But you have to click on the ``About Us'' link and then on a small ``full disclosure'' link to discover PC-Turnoff Week was created by the company that makes ComputerTime.

I spoke to Acunzo on Wednesday and he said, ``We want to make sure people are aware of the connection.'' I'd be more convinced if that connection was revealed on the PC-Turnoff home page.

There's also a ``Donate'' link on the home page soliciting contributions up to $100 for a ``Gold Membership.''

Yet Acunzo told me PC-Turnoff has not registered as a non-profit corporation. ``We're scrambling around to get the time,'' he said.

That means donations aren't tax deductible, and the founders aren't legally obligated to account for how they're spending donated funds.
``There are certainly skeptics out there, but our intentions are sincere,'' Acunzo said at the end of our conversation.

I'm among those skeptics. Parents have enough trouble already figuring out how to cope with children and technology; PC-Turnoff Week isn't advocating a helpful approach or conducting itself in a way I'd regard as trustworthy.

By Mike Langberg
Mercury News

More in Tux Machines

Security Leftovers

  • efail: Outdated Crypto Standards are to blame
    I have a lot of thoughts about the recently published efail vulnerability, so I thought I'd start to writeup some of them. I'd like to skip all the public outrage about the disclosure process for now, as I mainly wanted to get into the technical issues, explain what I think went wrong and how things can become more secure in the future. I read lots of wrong statements that "it's only the mail clients" and the underlying crypto standards are fine, so I'll start by explaining why I believe the OpenPGP and S/MIME standards are broken and why we still see these kinds of bugs in 2018. I plan to do a second writeup that will be titled "efail: HTML mails are to blame". I assume most will have heard of efail by now, but the quick version is this: By combining a weakness in cryptographic modes along with HTML emails a team of researchers was able to figure out a variety of ways in which mail clients can be tricked into exfiltrating the content of encrypted e-mails. Not all of the attack scenarios involve crypto, but those that do exploit a property of encryption modes that is called malleability. It means that under certain circumstances you can do controlled changes of the content of an encrypted message. [...] Properly using authenticated encryption modes can prevent a lot of problems. It's been a known issue in OpenPGP, but until know it wasn't pressing enough to fix it. The good news is that with minor modifications OpenPGP can still be used safely. And having a future OpenPGP standard with proper authenticated encryption is definitely possible. For S/MIME the situation is much more dire and it's probably best to just give up on it. It was never a good idea in the first place to have competing standards for e-mail encryption. For other crypto protocols there's a lesson to be learned as well: Stop using unauthenticated encryption modes. If anything efail should make that abundantly clear.
  • Comcast Leaked Customer Wi-Fi Logins in Plaintext, Change Your Passcode Now
    A Comcast Xfinity website was leaking Wi-Fi names and passwords, meaning now is a good time to change your Wi-Fi passcode. The site, intended to help new customers set up new routers, could easily be fooled into revealing the location of and password for any customer’s Wi-Fi network. A customer ID and a house or apartment number was all would-be attackers needed to get full access to your network, along with your full address.
  • Update Fedora Linux using terminal for latest software patches
  • Patch for New Spectre-Like CPU Bug Could Affect Your Performance
  • container_t versus svirt_lxc_net_t

today's howtos

Red Hat News

  • “Ultimate Private Cloud” Demo, Under The Hood!
    At the recent Red Hat Summit in San Francisco, and more recently the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver, the OpenStack engineering team worked on some interesting demos for the keynote talks. I’ve been directly involved with the deployment of Red Hat OpenShift Platform on bare metal using the Red Hat OpenStack Platform director deployment/management tool, integrated with openshift-ansible. I’ll give some details of this demo, the upstream TripleO features related to this work, and insight around the potential use-cases.
  • Discover the possibilities of hybrid cloud during a joint virtual event with Red Hat & Microsoft [Ed: [Ed: When Red Hat pus Microsoft executives at top positions inside Red Hat...]
  • Red Hat OpenStack Customer Survey 2018: containers, technical support top of mind
    In 2016, we surveyed our customer base on their use of OpenStack in production, getting a pulse-check on the top considerations, expectations, and benefits of a Red Hat OpenStack Platform deployment. With 2018 marking five years of Red Hat OpenStack Platform, we checked back in with our customers to see if their experiences or expectations of OpenStack have changed. Our survey found:
  • Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst On How He Plans To Win The Container Market
  • Juniper, Red Hat Tighten Integration to Fend Off VMware
    Juniper Networks and Red Hat have tightened their integration efforts in a move to help ease enterprise adoption of cloud-native platforms and bolster their own offerings against the likes of VMware and Cisco. The latest platform integration includes the Red Hat OpenStack Platform; Red Hat’s OpenShift Container Platform running as a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) on top of or next to the OpenStack platform depending on deployment architecture; and Juniper’s Contrail Enterprise Multi-Cloud platform running as the networking and security layer to unify those together. This integration is designed as a managed system to help deploy and run applications and services on any virtual machine (VM), container platform, and any cloud environment.
  • Red Hat OpenStack HCI Targets Telco Hybrid Cloud, 5G Deployments
    Red Hat today rolled out a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) platform based on OpenStack compute and Ceph storage. The new product targets service providers looking to deploy virtual network functions (VNFs) and 5G technologies on top of open source software. Launched at this week’s OpenStack Summit, the Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure for Cloud combines Red Hat OpenStack Platform 13 and Red Hat Ceph Storage 3 into one product. Red Hat says it is the largest contributor to both open source projects.
  • Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure for Cloud Bridges Datacenters and Edge Deployments
  • GSoC 2018: Week 1
    This time, I am working on improving the Fedora Community App with the Fedora project. It’s been a week since we started off our coding on may 14. The Fedora App is a central location for Fedora users and innovators to stay updated on The Fedora Project. News updates, social posts, Ask Fedora, as well as articles from Fedora Magazine are all held under this app.

Today in Techrights