Parents constantly worry about what their kids are up to on the internet and Google is launching a new way to educate kids on online safety. Parents, meet “ Be Internet Awesome ”.

Be Internet Awesome is Google’s “new digital citizenship” aimed at young people in schools. The aim is to teach them how to be safe, sensible and smart when they’re online because, in such a digital world, there’s not really a way to keep them away from it. Lessons include a cartoon game, which has been kept very on brand with Google’s logo and blue, red, yellow and green colour palette. The game is meant to help students from ages 8 to 12 guard against schemers, hackers and other bad actors. Google is aiming to use this scheme to reach out to five million schoolchildren and has also teamed up with the National Parent Teacher Association as a way offer related workshops to parents.

However, the search engine has faced criticism following an increasing rate of privacy and data concerns. Should Google be the one working to keep kids safe online, if it doesn’t keep its users safe?

Most recently Google came under fire for creating a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market. An Ex-Google employee came forward to urge the justice system to take the company on for the handling of a project to build a version of its search engine that would be acceptable to the government of China. The employee, Jack Poulson said it was a ‘catastrophic failure of the internal privacy review process.’

It was also recently revealed that Google was tracking the locations of users who had specifically turned off their location tracking, prompting Google to change the script on their website that didn’t cover this use of data. This is something that people are finding hard to look past in the light of the announcement of Be Internet Awesome being advanced within schools.

be internet awesome interland

Instead of looking into privacy settings and ensuring that children are able to shield themselves from invasive technology, like that of Google’s data usage, Be Internet Awesome instead focuses on online bullies and hackers as the “villains” of the lessons. Though these are certainly something young people are going to face online, with Instagram recently employing an anti-bullying AI, it’s certainly not the only thing they will face online. The New York Times reported on the content of the game:

“The cartoon game, Interland, offers an animated world “presented by Google.” In it, children navigate spammers and hackers in “Reality River” and consider who in their social network can see what they post online on “Mindful Mountain.”

- New York Times

The game, which comes with a lesson plan and classroom activities, is meant to teach children “the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence,” according to Google’s site description. Once students learn skills like how to create strong passwords and not share information with strangers, the program encourages them to be “fearless” online explorers.” - New York Times article, ‘Google Is Teaching Children How to Act Online. Is It the Best Role Model?’

In the same article, David Monahan, campaign manager at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, discusses Be Internet Awesome.

“There is an increasing awareness of the fact that all these supposedly free platforms are not free and that all of us are being tracked and our information is really the commodity we’re paying,”

“This seems like the wrong time to be pushing resources that tell kids to be brave and fearless on the internet without telling them to be cautious and without giving them the information they really need.”

- David Monahan

Several American teachers have come forward against the programme, citing that it is instead a method of Google continuing to have sway over the public and setting it in motion for the generations to come. Instead, they are calling for kids to be taught about keeping ensuring their privacy settings are safe and that your personal data isn’t being abused, not how to fend off internet hackers.

However, Google is aware of the distrust has assured parents, teachers and schools that they will be able to monitor what their children are doing online and that Google is taking multiple steps to educate young people about the digital world.

“We’ve also built products like Family Link, which lets parents supervise their kids’ Google accounts; have hosted online safety school assemblies for years; and will continue to develop new tools and resources for kids, parents and educators.”

- Ms Yi of Google

be internet awesome interland pledge

If you’re thinking this all sounds a bit American, how does it affect me and my kids here in the UK? You would be right! Google has another version of the programme in the UK. “Be Internet Legends” and “Be Internet Citizens”. For all purposes, it’s the same programme but adapted for UK children, with Google visiting the schools to teach the kids about internet safety. One of the most recent visits was to St Nicholas’s Primary School in Kenilworth, where teachers seemed to be pleased with the programme.

“In today’s rapidly changing digital world it’s essential to educate children to be responsible, safe and considerate online citizens. We passionately believe in equipping our children early as they begin to explore the internet.”

- Headteacher Louise Mohacsi

Overall, the long and short of it is that Google, and other digital influencers like it, will have a bearing over our online lives. Though this scheme does seem to miss key issues surrounding data security, it does equip children with information that they need to know about digital environments; we just hope more information is added to it over time.