Episode 2, the Jodie Foster-directed "Arkangel," was especially thought-provoking and disconcerting. It immediately made me recall a feature I wrote for The Globe and Mail back in 2014, so after the credits rolled I called up the story and was struck not only by the fact that it was published four years ago to the day -- how very Black Mirror -- but also that the episode's plot and themes would have made for a much more compelling intro. So you see, I had to do this:
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In a recent episode of Black Mirror, a worried single mother of the near-future snoops on her daughter using an experimental child-monitoring system. With a neural implant in the child’s brain and a tablet computer in mom’s hands, it monitors location and vital signs, allows the parent to see the world through her daughter’s eyes, and censors obscenities, violence and other stressful stimuli by distorting these experiences.
In typical Black Mirror fashion, the technological developments and social trends of today fuel the episode’s dark, and eventually bloody, subtext. Indeed, at a time when there is outrage over government and corporate monitoring of our phone and Internet activities, as well as concerns about the omnipresence of security cameras recording our every move, there's also a growing market for technology that helps parents monitor their kids.
Rogers Communications, for example, has been pushing its home-monitoring video capabilities in a TV commercial that features a real Canadian mom. In the ad, Kelly Williamson is on vacation in Aruba when an alert on her smartphone tells her smoke has been detected back at her home in Newmarket, Ont. A quick check of her monitoring system's live camera feed reveals not a kitchen in flames, but a pair of home-alone teenagers who have forgotten to flip their flapjacks.
"I know from the camera who it was," Ms. Williamson says in the ad while her guilty 17-year-old son Ryan smiles sheepishly.
The price of that knowledge, though, is youth privacy. Surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden said in a message delivered on Christmas Eve from Russia that "a child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought."
This pervasive surveillance of children also worries child psychologists, media experts and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. They say a lack of privacy in children’s lives can undermine trust, promote secrecy and hinder their ability to assess risk and develop independence. As well, young people who grow up in an environment where their privacy isn't respected may not learn to understand or value it.
"Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be," Mr. Snowdon says.
And these days kids can't even get it in their own homes.
READ THE REST OF THE STORY IN THE GLOBE AND MAIL