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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cellphone cos. & cyberbullying

It was a microcosm of the dynamic between government and industry where cyberbullying's concerned. The industry - in this case mobile-phone companies in Ireland - saying there is no technology that can stop phone-based bullying and lawmakers saying, "You could do more." Both are right, really. Bullying is a reality of growing up that long predates communications technology, but there's always something more companies can do. The dynamic was played out this time in an Irish parliamentary committee. Members had recently heard from a Singapore-based phone parental-controls vendor and called in the Irish Republic's four main cellphone operators to explain why they weren't using its "KidSafe" technology, the Irish Times reports. The phone companies said they'd considered KidSafe but the technology didn't work. "It did not prevent bullies from leaving voicemails, it rebooted when somebody who was not authorised tried to get through, it did not stop multimedia messaging service (MMS) which was used to send pictures, [and] ... it worked only on Samsung handsets which made up a small percentage of the market in Ireland." Maybe technology that actually does what it claims exists, maybe not. Maybe the phone companies should help develop said. But everybody also needs to look beyond technology for both prevention and cure, including phone companies. Besides citizenship and empathy training in schools, there is always room for more cooperation between companies and consumers and schools, not just law enforcement (e.g., UK mobile operator O2's 100+ customer service staff people dedicated to children's phone-based behavioral issues, especially cyberbullying, as described to me by a UK colleague - see "What mobile carriers need to do for kids").

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