Episode summary:

Susan is joined by her son, Ari Andersen, host of the podcast Everything They Know, for a conversation about what parents should be helping their kids understand about privacy and data to ensure they make informed decisions as they navigate the digital world.

 

After starting his career as an international policy consultant, Ari Andersen decided to start his own podcast with a friend called Millennials Don’t Suck, which aimed to disprove the prevailing assumption that millennials are lazy and narcissistic. One hundred episodes and hundreds of thousands of downloads later, Ari’s moved into podcasting full-time and helps brands and entrepreneurs find their voice and launch their own programming under the umbrella of his company, Curious Audio. Find Ari here: Everything They Know and Millenials Don’t Suck

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

 

  • Why TikTok may not be as harmless as it appears
  • How YouTube’s algorithms steer kids toward videos you probably don’t want them to see
  • Important choices we can help kids make to safeguard their privacy

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Transcript:

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome back to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I’m your host, Susan Stiffelman, and I’m really glad you’re here. I’m a marriage and family therapist. I’m the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. And I’m also a mom, so I’m especially excited to share our guests today with you because it’s my son, Ari Andersen. Hi Ari. I’m so glad you’re here. Not just because I love you to pieces, but also because you’re doing an amazing podcast series and I want everyone in our community to hear about it.

 

Speaker 2:

Thank you. Yeah, it’s been really exciting, but also, you know, sort of eye opening is to the digital world that we’re really inhabiting.

 

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah. And I’ve done a lot of classes online about screen time and raising screen wise kids and, but this is an area that I haven’t covered. So today everyone, we’re going to be talking about the importance of showing and teaching our kids how to be responsible digital citizens. And you’re going to hear some really important information about how big tech companies gather data that might surprise you and will definitely help you make smart and informed decisions as you and your kids engage in that digital world. But first, as always, I’d like to share a little bit about what we’re up to in the Parenting Without Power Struggles community because lots of you are looking for a place to go for reliable ongoing information, guidance learning and you can go to a SusanStiffelman.com and find lots of resources. There’s a free newsletter with tips and inspiration.

 

Speaker 1:

It’s also a great way to stay in touch about the upcoming classes that we offer. And you can find a list of deep dives, masterclasses on topics like homework in the self-driven child, helping anxious children thrive, raising screen wise kids and raising highly sensitive children. So check it out. And if you want more ongoing support, you can look at our  Parenting Without Power Struggles  monthly membership program where I work personally with parents twice a month. You can test drive that program at Susanstiffelman.com/membership and use coupon code Podcast19 and your first month will just be a dollar. So I hope you’ll check it out. It’s a great way to get personal coaching and support as you changed old parenting patterns. So there’s a lot of great resources there. And now I really want to get started. I’m so happy that we get to explore this topic and certainly with one of my favorite people in the world.

 

Speaker 1:

So Ari Andersen, my son has a, I’m going to read your bio, Ari. Okay, go for it. I found it on one of your websites. Great. And you can elaborate. But Ari started his career as an international policy consultant. He decided to start his own podcast with a friend called Millennials Don’t Suck, which aimed to disprove the prevailing assumption that millennials are lazy and narcissistic. And after a hundred episodes and hundreds of thousands of downloads, he moved into podcasting full time and helps brands and entrepreneurs find their voice and launch their own programming under the umbrella of his company. Curious Audio and just a side note, Ari really helped me get my podcast up and running. So thanks. Sorry. Happy to do it. One of your recent projects, the one I’ve been kind of obsessive really listening to is a series called Everything They Know. It’s a little bit of a chilling title by the way. And the graphic for it is just like a fingerprint.

 

Speaker 2:

Okay. It’s, you know, there’s a, we didn’t want to lean too hard into the fear aspect, but at the same time I think it’s, it’s important to kind of grab people’s attention with, with you know, with a title that’s a little bit fearful because the reality is, is that so much of the internet and the ecosystem that we’re all living in just saying yes to things and without really considering the ramifications is, is scary. It’s really necessary for us to educate ourselves to a greater degree.

 

Speaker 1:

And you’ve got the most amazing people on the series, like really top experts in the field. I know you traveled all over the country doing interviews in DC and San Francisco and New York, all about data science and privacy. And so, so let’s talk about this content or these ideas as they relate to parents who are bringing up kids in this new frontier. What are some of the, starting with the maybe broad stroke ideas that parents should think about as they help their kids navigate the digital world safely and responsibly?

 

Speaker 2:

Sure. Well, you know, I, I would say that it starts with sort of taking stock of how is your child using, using the internet? Are they, you know, obviously using tick talk probably Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat you know, probably most of them have cell phones and something that we really don’t consider is the amount of information that’s being gathered simply just by existing on the internet. So, you know, we refer to this as human behavioral data and it’s how, you know, every internet company has, has built, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars in market value essentially is by gathering that human behavioral data and using it yeah. To sell advertisers that data so they can target you and your family with very specifically targeted ads that that will hit you at just the right moment. Convince you to believe something in the right way or we’ll convince you to do something in the way that they want you to do it.

 

Speaker 1:

And one of the places where we know kids spend tons of time is YouTube. And I was at a conference a few months ago and a Tristan Harris, who I know you’ve had some contact with, was talking about the algorithm that YouTube uses that might start a, let’s say a 12 year old is just looking at a video on YouTube about dieting and within five, six, seven videos that YouTube moves her towards, she’s watching videos on promoting anorexia. Can you say more about this idea of the algorithms and how, how sort of, it’s sort of the leading the lamb to the slaughter in a way. The way the system, because it wants to keep us on their site, pulls us further and further in.

 

Speaker 2:

Well, so, you know, we have to think again, like what is the root of this? It’s profit. So all of these companies ultimately are at the behest of the short term interests of the shareholders of their company. The CEO is having a fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder profit. Turns out the way, you know, it is most profit generating. Do you keep people on their platforms as long as they can to make the, the, the platforms as addicting as possible. And so they, you know, I’m sure you know, but they employ all kinds of different strategies to do that. One of the most famous ones is called variable reward theory, which is has to do with you know, sometimes notifications come, sometimes they don’t. But, but in that uncertainty, people are actually much more likely to go back and look more often. It’s oftentimes why, you know, you, you, you see somebody just opening up their phone to check something without really having any reason to do so.

 

Speaker 2:

So that’s one. Number two it turns out that the, the two emotions that drive engagement more than anything else are fear and anger. And so all of these, these these social media platforms optimize for maximum engagement, right? So they want, you know, they, they push posts to the top that are engaged with the most meaning. They are liked the most. They’re commented the most, they’re shared the most. And you know, based on, you know, the, the billions and billions and billions of data points that they have access to, the things that are engaged with the most are, are, are the most divisive fear, baiting, anxiety inducing content.

 

Speaker 1:

So if a parent who has a kid who they sort of feel, well, YouTube is fairly harmless, there’s lots of entertaining videos about, you know, the games that my kids like to play or the animals that they love, or whatever it might be. What advice or what suggestions might you offer to make sure that parents are kind of keeping their eye on the bigger picture?

 

Speaker 2:

You know, I think what’s really interesting, and I’m sure, I don’t know how much time you spend on YouTube, but if you look at your YouTube, like if you go to your YouTube and you watch videos, usually there’s like a, on the, on the right side of the page, there’s like a recommended videos section. So if you look at what those recommended videos are, you can generally see like, okay, this is the kind of content my kid is watching. This is sort of what he’s being exposed to. So like for me, I usually watch like I don’t go on YouTube very often, but when I do, it’s to watch basketball highlights. So almost all of my YouTube recommendations have something to do with basketball, right. But for instance, many young people, especially young men, are being radicalized and YouTube is kind of one of the primary means of doing so. And so they’ve actually done studies to where it’s like, like you said, literally within, you know, you can go from watching like a guitar tutorial video and within six or seven videos you can get to like a video talking about how the Illuminati control the world or, or whatever. And, and so that kind of thing, you know, it’s incredibly dangerous. It’s it makes for this digital echo chamber effect that

 

Speaker 2:

Allows people to move further and further away from reality. And unfortunately, as, as our community and our our behavior and our interactions with each other move more and more to a digital world, these tethers that we have to reality become harder to hold onto.

 

Speaker 1:

Okay. So, okay. Just everybody take a breath to scare anybody. But you know, what is it, what’s the quote, Ari, about the informed citizenry,

 

Speaker 2:

Right? I mean, it’s, it, I think the reason why this happens, right? The reason why this has happened is because we’ve drank the Koolaid like we’ve bought into, you know, what’s Google’s original slogan was don’t be evil. Right? Which is happens to be the title of the first episode of, of, of this podcast we’ve been talking about. But we, you know, we, we’ve, we’ve just kind of like blindly said, Oh yeah, this is great. We love, we love the internet, we love Twitter, we love Instagram. Like we’re just going to share everything and, and sort of not think about it really. But in this case, like, you know, ignorance maybe has been blessed for a while, but, but we’re sort of bordering on this precipice and I think a lot of people’s eyes were opened, you know, after the 2016 election when we saw really the damage that has and Twitter did to our political discourse. And we’re seeing it again now, obviously. But just that we’re losing our humanity to a certain degree because so much of our, our interactions and our discourse is happening without the context that human to human interaction provides. Yeah.

 

Speaker 1:

And a lot of people, I know in a couple of your episodes, you, you talk about how many people say, well, look, I’d have nothing to hide, or they already have. All my data anyway. What difference does it make? Can you just speak to that?

 

Speaker 2:

I, I, you know, I think it’s one of the most dangerous things that you can say if you look at, so you know, tick-tock is a great example and I don’t mean to say this to scare people, but it’s the same time. This is the reality of what’s happening. So tic talk, it turns out is owned by a company. That’s like a Chinese state owned company. It’s the parent company of the parent company, whatever. And the reason tick talk exists is to train China’s artificial intelligence program, which is, which is orders of magnitude more powerful than any other in the world and has been used to, to surveil the Chinese population. And literally you can draw a direct line from the way that the tick talk videos are categorized by hashtag. So each of those hashtags, so it’s like hashtag jumping jacks hashtag walking up the stairs.

 

Speaker 2:

What that’s doing is, is basically, you know, there’s hundreds of thousands of videos with hashtag walking up the stairs. That’s just teaching an algorithm. What a human walking up the stairs looks like. Wow. And so what that means is that as we’re giving these, we’re doing the work of these surveillance entities for them. And that same artificial intelligence and you know, the Chinese artificial intelligence is the same, the same intelligence that’s, you know, spitting out thousands of names every week to be sent to re-education camps you know, in, in, in China. So there, there are real world real world consequences here and, and, and you know, as much as this is scary and we don’t want to think about it, it’s also, you know, you know, especially as parents who are ushering a new generation into this world, I think it’s an incredibly shortsighted to not give our kids a proper education as to what they’re doing. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Speaker 1:

So, you know, we’re not here to say you should or shouldn’t have your kids on tick tock. What we’re trying to sort of guide or encourage you to do is make an informed decision. And one of those Ari has to do with the terms of service. I mean, we were first me about this, I just couldn’t even digest what you were saying. So tell me about the terms of service. I won’t even touch it. You just sort of,

 

Speaker 2:

Sure. So you know, we’re all very well aware of the terms of service that we all sign all the time. Right? So you know, I’m just going to give a couple of examples and, and actually, so just so people know, the resource that I use is called https://tosdr.org/ terms of service didn’t read is what it stands for. So we all know these terms of service agreements are just ridiculously long and if, and, and that is on purpose, they do not want you to read these terms of service agreements. A study was done, and by the way, this study was eight years ago, but it was, it’s, it’s the most recent study that I was able to find. A study was done that you would need 76 work days to read all of your privacy policies each year. So if you paid somebody eight hours a day to read privacy policies, that would take them 76 days to do that nationalized. That’s 53.8 billion hours of time required to read privacy policies.

 

Speaker 1:

So we’re just saying fine. Okay, I agree.

 

Speaker 2:

Right? So here I’m here. So these are Google’s and Facebook’s terms. You know, some of the big bullet points from Google and Facebook’s terms of service agreement that we all just say yes to every time. So here’s Google. This service may collect, use and share location data. This service can read private messages. You agree to defend, indemnify and hold the service harmless in case of a claim related to your use of the service. The service tracks you on other websites

 

Speaker 1:

And we’re all saying, okay, sure, I just want to do my search. I just want to use the app.

 

Speaker 2:

Why do you think Gmail is free? That’s a whole other conversation. But they’re reading all of our emails. Here’s some of the things Facebook can do. Your identity is used in ads that are shown to other users. The app on your phone required for the service requires broad device permissions, including having your microphone on the service tracks you on other websites. This service may use tracking pixels, web beacons, browser fingerprinting, and or device fingerprinting on users. Meaning they, they tie your specific device identification number to your digital behavior. So we hear the words, they have your data, they’re selling your data, they’re keeping my data. And we think of it as some like ethereal thing that really doesn’t have any merit to our lives. We haven’t, you know, just in terms of our cognitive awareness of this issue, we just haven’t been able to, to tie it to reality yet.

 

Speaker 2:

And so that’s really what we’re trying to do with this show is to give real world examples to inter, you know, we’ve interviewed everybody from the, you know, the woman who, who helped build the terror database after nine 11 to, you know, one of the women who was on the team that invented email and built much of the, sort of the underlying architecture of the internet to Obama’s chief technology officer. So, so we’ve had some really high level people and they’ve, they’re all saying the same thing, you know, they’re all saying, yep. It, the interest of these tech companies are not aligned with the interest of humanity. Right. and so we, we were all worried about so many different issues, you know healthcare defense, longterm security, climate change. But the reality is, is that we’re all spending dozens of hours every week just giving really, really valuable information and private information away without even realizing it. Wow.

 

Speaker 1:

And just for everyone who might’ve hopped in in the middle of the show that Ari’s talking about is everything they know. It’s an amazing podcast series and I highly recommended I’m, I’m riveted. Privacy have that you talked about that you’ve got and also blew my mind. Tell me about, or tell everybody about that, that prevents people from seeing where you’re going. What’s the deal?

 

Speaker 2:

Right. So I found out about this a couple of months ago and it really, you know, I’m very educated about this topic, but even this just totally boggled my mind.

 

Speaker 1:

What’s the, what’s the app, Ari?

 

Speaker 2:

Right. So it’s called Privacy Pro. You can get it on. I dunno if it’s on Android, if it’s available for Android, but certainly it’s available for iOS. It’s $5 a month. But I would consider it money well spent this week. It is blocked 9,600 trackers for my phone. Yes.

 

Speaker 1:

What does that mean? Tell people what that made.

 

Speaker 2:

So anytime you log into Insta, anytime you do anything on Instagram at anytime you do anything on Facebook, anytime you visit a website on your phone, let’s first talk about websites. There are hundreds if not thousands of websites that are getting access to the cookies to your information when you visit a website. So if I go to the guardian.com or whatever, and you actually can do this because, because of new laws that are in Europe and you go to certain websites now they say like there’s sort of like a, you agree to use cookies. But did you actually go into the, go into sort of like the options? You can say like, okay, like what exactly are, you know, am I giving away here? And what you’re giving away is location data specifically information about your device and other websites that you visit.

 

Speaker 2:

And what, when you, when you sort of peek behind the curtain there, but you’re also given access to or the number of vendors that have access to that information. And, and literally you can, it’s like you scroll that list of vendors for, you know, over 30 seconds. There’s, there’s thousands of, of entities that we have no idea who these, who these people are, what, what they’re doing with this information that are getting access to it. So I’m just looking through, you know, the, these, these URLs that are blocked. You can look at them on this app, but it’s, you know, just these random URLs that you have no context of. I have no idea what any of these things mean, but they’re all, you know, branch.io fast lane dot Rubicon project.com, bitter.critio.com secure pub ads dot D dot. Devaa click.net. All of these, all of these things that are just like little Phantoms behind the thing. The, the, the websites that we visit on the internet that we just have no, no awareness of.

 

Speaker 1:

So proud fro blocks them from having permission to correct. Correct. Yeah. Wow. I mean honestly, you know, when you are traveling around and you were doing these interviews and you were telling me a little bits and pieces, I was feeling really happy that you’re doing. I think it’s such an important topic. But until I heard the podcast, I really had honestly no idea of just the breadth and scope of what you’re discovering and an earthing and how important it is. So, so thank you for, for doing that.

 

Speaker 2:

Oh, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s been so fun to do. You know, it’s, it’s funny and I want to leave people with this because I think it’s a, it’s, it’s a little bit of a hopeful note here is, is yes, please. I, so I started this project back over the summer and I, when I started and I started in my research around it I was, I got pretty depressed. I was like, Oh yeah, we’re just on the precipice of dystopia, you know, essentially, because, you know, if you look at the amount of, you know, money that these tech companies spend on lobbying our government every year to not create regulation around this stuff, it’s just staggering. You know, it’s like a million, you know, just, it’s a staggering amount of money. But after talking to so many smart people across the spectrum of so many different aspects of this issue who are, who are fighting for privacy, for greater transparency, for greater education, for, you know, a regulatory framework for the harvesting of human behavioral data, there, there’s an optimism that exists and that as people start to wake up to these issues, we can pressure our lawmakers to do something about this.

 

Speaker 2:

We can educate ourselves and modulate our behavior. You know, it might mean having a, a little bit more friction built our everyday lives, right? We like to talk about how frictionless modern society is because of our tech. But maybe we’ll exchange a little bit of that easiness with just a little bit more control over how are our data, when we think about our data, this is, this is the information that represents the life you live, right. That’s important, that’s valuable and we’re just giving it away. And so as people start to wake up to this, I am hopeful and a lot of people who, who have spent a lot more time thinking about this stuff than I am, are very hopeful that we are going to, to find a way to to find a balance here. You know?

 

Speaker 1:

Well great. Awesome. Cool. Thank you. Let’s wrap up with a tip. Ari, you know, what’s something that parents can do this week? Cause I always like to give them an actionable step and and in particular with their kids, what’s something they can do to kind of implement some of what they’ve heard today?

 

Speaker 2:

Sure. I mean I mentioned https://tosdr.org/, I think it’s, I think it’s a great site. You can, it’s a, it’s a browser add on, but you also, if you just go to the site and you search the different services or apps or whatever that you or your kid is using you can kind of see, okay, you know, what am I, what are we agreeing to? And we’re saying yes to these terms of service, but also, you know, a lot of apps do, do allow for, you know, for certain permissions to be turned off. So personally I just turn off as many permissions as I can sometimes all of the, you know, the thing really is, is just educating yourself. Right? https://tosdr.org/, obviously Privacy Pro, great. Just to, to, I almost just psychologically to feel like you have at least you’re taking back just some semblance of control

 

Speaker 1:

Or kids while you do that and show them what the actual terms of service are. Service agreements are that they’ve been clicking yes to so that they just raise their own awareness, watching you doing it together.

 

Speaker 2:

And I would just say, you know, your kids, because they, they don’t know a world besides this world. I think that’s really important too cognizant of like, I, you know, I’m 29 I was sort of on that border. Like I sort of remember a time before, before everybody had a computer and everything, but your kids do, you know, this new generation does not know that. And so they might be much more conditioned to be like, Oh, who cares? Like it’s all public. I would just feed, you know, strategize about how can you explain to them the importance of, of keeping some things private and just the recognizing the slippery slope of, of like,

 

Speaker 1:

Oh, like I don’t have anything to hide because it’s so easy to slide into, you know, really bad situation societally and I don’t want to be an alarmist, but that’s not a place that we want to go collectively at all. Good. Well, I hope everyone listening has a chance to listen to the podcast. Everything They Know. Tell your friends, please help raise awareness about these choices we can make to safeguard our, our data and our privacy. And to find out more about Ari’s work. What website are you? Let’s see. 

 

Speaker 2:

Curious Audio my company. You can also go to  Everything They Know. That’s the website for this podcast. But I would say, you know, if you’re looking to learn more about this issue specifically, we really have been able to, to get some of the smartest people on the planet in this field talking about this stuff oftentimes for the first time on record. So it’s, we’ve been really lucky to have the guests that we’ve had, you know, everybody from government officials to, you know, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, to data scientists to kind of really provide a holistic perspective about about what’s happening here.

 

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Well thank you. Thank you Ari Andersen. Thank you. My pride and joy and just an all around cool human. And everybody, I sure hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation. I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast. You can leave a rating or review if you’d like and visit Susanstiffelman.com if you want to get our newsletter, stay in touch or test drive our monthly membership program. And remember that your first month is just a dollar. If you want to check it out, that’s a Susanstiffelman.com/membership.

 

Speaker 2:

Of course. I’m, I mean, I’m so honored to be on here and I’m, I’m so proud of, of the work that you do and you know, I think, I think parents are really lucky to have somebody like you helping them, helping them navigate, you know, what I know is a very complex and difficult journey as a parent.

 

Speaker 1:

And just thank you. And just a side note, you know, I was definitely a very flawed parent and so, you know I’m, I’m in the game with everybody. I’m in the trenches, you know, learning and growing. And you know, I can say now with an adult son who’s just one of my all time favorite people in the world, you know, it’s worth investing the time and energy to learn and grow, to end up with just such a sweet relationship. So, and to everyone listening, I look forward to joining you on our next episode and meanwhile, remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy. Cool. I’ll see you next time.

 

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