Microsoft Endangers Queer Teens in the Name of Online Safety
New features in the latest upgrade of Windows might spell bad news for queer teens. Households with family accounts will no longer be free to privately use the internet, since parents will receive weekly reports about which sites their kids are visiting (and for how long). This is an amazingly terrible idea, and an invasion of privacy that could have disastrous consequences for teens everywhere.
Since the age of dial-up modems, young people have used the internet to educate themselves about all kinds of information they might not want to discuss with their parents. Or maybe they do want to discuss it with their parents, just not yet. Here are just a handful of examples that teens may not want to (or may not be able to) discuss with their guardians: effective birth control methods, how to stay safe at parties where there’s alcohol, how to deal with gonorrhea, what to do if you’re feeling suicidal and precautions to take against abusive parents and step-parents. And remember, different parents have different values, and some are a lot more strict than others. Queer kids have a whole other range of internet search terms that they may not be ready to discuss with mom and dad yet. Or ever.
Windows 10 is currently installed on over 75 million devices worldwide. Users with Family Accounts have this spying feature turned on by default, and it’s up to parents to manually remove it. (Only the person who installs the system can change it, and other family members have no say about whether the reports get sent or not.) This is terrible news for at-risk teens and those who already feel like their parents are spying on their every move.
Over the past few years Americans have become very nonchalant about sharing personal information with anonymous companies, agreeing to Terms of Service that few people actually read. Microsoft sends user data into the cloud even when requested not to, and also collects data on users’ individual keystrokes. This latest parental feature was mentioned on Boing Boing earlier this month, but the implications for LGBTQ teens wasn’t addressed right away.
One gay parent recently spoke to Gay Star News: ‘This could be very damaging to parent/child relationships. And apart from that, it’s just really creepy. It’s the modern equivalent to reading your kid’s diary. You need to make sure they’re safe, but you need to let them have their own space as well.’ A Microsoft spokesperson told Gay Star News that the feature was added to ensure parents would be able to keep their children safe online, but neglected to acknowledge inquiries about youth being outed against their will.