The 3Cs: Content, Contact, and Cost
Everything online falls into one of three major categories. They are either content, involve contact or some type of commercial activity. “Content” includes things our children can see, access and do online. It might include false information, sexually-explicit graphics or hate. Or it might include fun and entertaining activities for our children. Or they may involve commercial risks and abuses, such as data collection, advertising and marketing and promotional activities online or things you can buy on Amazon.com – “commercialism.” Or, perhaps the most risky of all of the three, they involve ways that our children can communicate with others or that strangers can reach out and communicate with your children online and learn how to reach them offline – “contact.”
Thinking about everything online and everything that uses interactive or Internet-connected devices in terms of these three categories can be a big help to parents. We already understand the risks of strangers talking to our children or their giving away too much private information to others. Yet, while none of us would ever allow our child to talk on the phone for hours with someone we don’t know, few of us understand that the Internet is exactly the same thing. It allows others, millions of people we don’t know, to talk to our children, and for our children to talk back.
While contact poses some potentially serious risks, it isn’t necessarily bad. Good “contact” can include your child’s homework help link or being able to send an e-mail to their favorite cartoon characters. It can also include their being able to e-mail us at WiredSafety.org when they need help. The 3Cs aren’t good or bad. They are just ways of categorizing issues that our children face online.
Note that not all parents see commercial issues as important as content or contact. While some despise commercialism, others don’t mind commercial promotion if it’s from trusted companies or brands. Many parents don’t worry about commercial promotion or advertising at all. That’s one of the good things about being a parent. You can decide what is important to you and your children and what they see or do (at least until they are teenagers and stop listening entirely :) ).
Thinking about risks in terms of the 3Cs (or if commercialism isn’t an issue for you, the 2Cs) can be very helpful when you are setting the big blanket rules for your household such as “no communicating with strangers” or “no adult sites,” or when you are considering buying a new device or new technologies for your children or household. You can use technology to block all incoming or outgoing communications, or just block them to or from people you don’t know. You can apply filters to prevent access to certain content or limit content to those sites you or a trusted party pre-approves.
Look for the 3Cs whenever you use interactive technologies or devices. Think about these issues when shopping for new tech toys and gadgets for your household too. When you are looking to buy new technologies you can easily ask the salesperson to let you know:
- Does the technology permit you to access information?
- Does it permit you to block certain information or filter it?
- Does the technology permit others to contact you? How?
- Can you block those communications or limit the people who can communicate with you?
- Are there charges for certain things, content or services?
- Are you warned before incurring those costs?
- How are things charged to you?
- Are ads delivered to you on the device? Can you block them?
- Is anyone collecting your information tracking your behavior or sharing any of this without your permission? How?
The responses to these questions can help guide you to purchasing the right technology, depending on what you consider the real risks and your priorities. (Many salespeople don’t know the answers, so it may take a little work.) And thinking about your choices on the 3Cs can help you design a solution that works for you, your child and your entire family today, tomorrow and forever.