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Concerns of Internet and kids, look to phone applications: group

In addition to TVs, Mp3 players and video game consoles shaping the lives of children, add the cell phone.

Scores of applications for smart phones like the iPhone are being downloaded by young children. With 100,000 applications easily downloaded from Apple's iTunes store, it's hard to stay a step ahead. Some are violent games and other applications have adult content. But that isn’t always apparent to children and their parents, and one public interest group wants that to change.

Common Sense Media, a non-profit group focused on educating families about digital content, is pushing federal regulators to pay closer attention to cell phone applications and the possible risks posed by an explosion of mobile content. It’s also in talks with Apple about signaling to parents and children what applications may be inappropriate for them.

The group is also beginning to rate phone applications like it has done for video games, movies and Web sites. On its reviews page, parents rate and review digital content for each other.

“Apps are going to be an incredibly important platform for children and parents need to have information to make decisions that are right for their families,” said James P. Steyer, CEO of San Francisco-based Common Sense Media.

During coffee yesterday morning, Steyer said he sees “digital literacy” for children as a key regulatory concern that crosses several sections of the federal government. And he said the Federal Communications Commission has a responsibility to dive into questions of new technologies with its expanisve inquiry into how digital media is impacting children.

Education regulators should educate students and their families on digital content as part of school curriculum. Technology regulators should look at the impact of new technologies on children. The Obama administration’s push for high-speed access to all Americans should also include education on how children and families can use the Web.

In a visit this week to Washington D.C., Steyer met with Anthony Miller, Deputy Secretary at the Department of Education; Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, and Federal Communications Commission officials including Blair Levin, who is charged with the agency’s national broadband strategy. He also met with officials at the National Telecommunications & Information Administration charged with the majority of broadband stimulus funds.

Steyer, a first amendment law professor at Stanford, knows many of these figures in Washington well. Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, is a board member. As is former FCC chairman William Kennard.

And he’s emphasized the need to look closely at mobile applications and what safeguards that should be considered to ensure families can make informed decisions on how to use that technology.

“We are at a unique opportunity in time in Washington and we should be thinking about how to make every child in America digitally literate,” Steyer said.

By Cecilia Kang  |  November 5, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Broadband , FCC , FTC , Kids Online , Mobile  
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