Cyber Kidnappings, Falling Test Scores, and Legal Battles Over Kids’ Online Safety

Words by
Jake Cutler

JAN 11, 2024

Cyber Kidnappings, Falling Test Scores, and Legal Battles Over Kids’ Online Safety

Each week this year we’ll be gathering the most important tech-safety news and laying it out in short, digestible chunks. The hope is to make it easier for you to stay informed as parents raising kids in a digital world (because we know that can get overwhelming). 

On to our first weekly recap…

Cyber Kidnappings

A Chinese foreign exchange student was found alone in a tent in the Utah mountains last week after falling victim to a “cyber kidnapping” scam. The 17-year-old’s parents in China had been extorted and sent $80,000 in ransom. 

This new type of scam falls under the larger umbrella of cyber stalking — the act of persistently harassing or intimidating someone online. In cyber kidnapping scams, victims are ordered to isolate themselves, take photos that make it appear they’re captive, and these images are used to extort money.

Learn more about cyber kidnappings.

NBC News: Chinese exchange student found ‘very cold and scared’ in a tent in Utah mountains in ‘cyber kidnapping,’ police say

AI Image Generators Being Trained on Child Sex Abuse Images

The Stanford Internet Observatory recently reported a horrifying trend: top AI image generators are being trained on thousands of illegal pictures of child sex abuse, underscoring the urgent need for more stringent controls and ethical guidelines on artificial intelligence.

Fortune: Top AI image generators are getting trained on thousands of illegal pictures of child sex abuse, Stanford Internet Observatory says

Are Smartphones Making Kids Dumber?

A worldwide study has found that student performance in math, reading, and science has been falling globally for years, even before the pandemic. The report points out three reasons why phones might be a significant factor in this decline.

  1. Students who spend less leisure time on digital devices at school scored higher 
  2. Screens seem to create distractions throughout school, even for students who aren’t always looking at them. 
  3. Nearly half of the students reported feeling “nervous” or “anxious” when they didn’t have their digital devices near them, which was negatively correlated with math scores.

The Atlantic: It Sure Looks Like Phones Are Making Students Dumber

Kids’ Online Safety Bills Hitting Roadblocks in Several States

In an effort to enhance children’s safety online, state legislators and advocates are working on drafting new digital protection laws inspired by child protection rules in the United Kingdom.

Critics argue these laws could infringe on free speech and lead to invasive data collection. Supporters, however, assert that the laws target harmful conduct, not speech itself. As the legal battle continues, lawmakers are working on revisions to make these bills more resistant to legal challenges.

The Washington Post: States looking to 2024 to pass revised kids’ online safety bills

Meta Pressured to Make Changes

A new lawsuit against Meta alleges a pattern of deception and downplaying the effects of social media on younger users on both Instagram and Facebook. It also focuses on violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

In response to this and mounting regulatory pressure, Meta Platforms has announced it will tighten content controls for teens using its Facebook and Instagram platforms. In coming weeks, Meta will automatically place all teen users into the most restrictive content control settings. Additionally, certain things — like content about eating disorders or self-harm — will not be visible to users under 18.

TechCrunch: Meta turned a blind eye to kids on its platforms for years, unredacted lawsuit alleges

KSL: Meta to restrict more content for teens as regulatory pressure mounts

Google Settles Lawsuit Over Privacy Violations

Google has reached a preliminary settlement in a class-action lawsuit over allegations that it misled users about their privacy when browsing in Google’s so-called Incognito mode. The case highlights the ongoing debate about digital privacy, the responsibility of tech giants like Google to respect user privacy, and the need for parents to teach kids caution about sharing any information online.

The Record: Google to settle class action lawsuit alleging Incognito mode does not protect user privacy

What did we miss?

Did we miss anything this week? Let us know in the comments and we’ll try to fit it in next week.


  • Dillon Rogers on Jan 28, 2024 06:51 PM

    I always look forward to reading your posts, they never fail to brighten my day and educate me in some way Thank you!

  • Kevin Y. D. Page on Jan 31, 2024 06:56 AM

    Love this appreciation for great content

  • Mae K. I. Estrada on Feb 01, 2024 11:23 AM

    This blog post hit all the right notes!

  • Molly Aniya Espinoza on Feb 08, 2024 06:29 AM

    This blog is like a breath of fresh air in the midst of all the negativity on the internet I'm grateful to have stumbled upon it

  • Gabb on Feb 08, 2024 10:11 AM

    Hi Molly! We are so happy to hear that! Thank you for your kind comment and your support.

  • Lucia L. X. Church on Feb 22, 2024 09:22 AM

    This blog post is worth the read - trust us!

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