Ask OLPC a Question about Social Issues


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Social Issues

This page deals with issues related to Social Issues.


The full impact of the OLPC will only be determined with time. Nevertheless, you may have concerns about recipient governments, child safety, privacy, abuse. A discussion of metrics can be found here, and a general discussion of social issues surrounding laptop deployment can be found here.

Child Safety Concerns

There is a general statement on child safety at Online threats and security.

Cultural impact

Replace with a link to summary/discussion of this issue.

Ownership and theft

Replace with a link to summary/discussion of this issue.

Other social issue questions

Child Safety

Physical Security

We passed out bracelets in Rio Branco Brazil and there was a mini-riot. How do you expect people to secury these laptops, especially children, when they usually don't have locks, doors, and in some cases houses?

This is really a question for the Brazilian government ministry of education who are the ones handing them out. Since these people have lived in Brazil all of their lives and are intimately familiar with Brazilian culture and Brazilian problems, one can expect that they have some sort of plan to deal with this issue. One solution would be to start with projects in small isolated towns where you can easily give 100% of children an XO. Then there is little incentive to steal them within the town since there is no scarcity. As for grey market sales, perhaps this cannot be prevented, but if they are government property, then Brazil has laws and enforcement apparatus that can be applied to the problem. The OLPC project really hasn't got much to do with this.

Privacy issues from microphone

Can the microphone be enable/disabled by hardware (e.g., a switch), in a way that you can obviously see? I'm concerned that the microphone may be solely controlled by software. If it is, it could be used as a surreptitious "bug" (recording device). Since it's on a mesh, an attacker could remotely attack a machine, and if/when they break in, monitor the surroundings unknown to all. Malevolent governments could do the same.

AFAIK there is no button for the microphone, for cost reasons: a button adds extra plastic, one more wire, and is just one more mechanical thing that can break. You bring up a good point about enabling the microphone and software and listening-in remotely: this wiki needs to have a security considerations page... --SamatJain 14:13, 8 August 2006 (EDT)
The microphone and the web camera have hard wired activity LEDs. These are connected at the hardware level and can't be controlled by software. If the microphone was enabled remotely, the light would go on. There is nothing that the software can do to prevent this. This is a deliberate design decision to prevent just such a scenario as you've described.Alc 23:11, 31 January 2008 (EST)
This issue should be raised in the Discussion section of the Security page.

Privacy and Anonymity

What measures are being taken to insure that this device does not become the instrument of an international id program?

For all the reasons that people are concerned about national id cards, the danger of this platform becoming a unique identifier of virtual identities is present. Will the platform ship with tools which support anonymous network activity? Mrenoch 05:53, 9 August 2006 (EDT)

While the laptops will have serial numbers (of course), there are no plans to ship the laptops with any remotely accessible unique identifiers. For a variety of technical, social, and design related reasons, we are not pursuing such a solution. --Mako 13:53, 10 August 2006 (EDT)

(Moved discussion to Talk:Ask OLPC a Question about Social Issues)

Child Safety Concerns

We are already seeing cases where social networking sites are being misused by criminals. Kids put a lot of trust on each other and will never doubt a message from someone who seems like a buddy to them. How can we warn the kids that in any network application, the person sitting on the other end need not be his/her friend? What about displaying some kind of a warning in chat and mail apps? I believe educating parents about potential dangers of misuse is also very important.

This is being taken seriously by the OLPC team. If you want to discuss this or other security issues, please do it in the Discussions section of the Security page.

On potential child predators

What precautions is your organization taking against potential child predators due to increased internet activity in the countries receiving laptops?

First answer is that we are designing a laptop that functions without any Internet access whatsoever. In many of the areas it will be deployed, the Internet is either unavailable or too expensive for educational use.
Second answer is that the educators who will be teaching the kids are being made aware of this potential issue.

I need to know... how does a web camera (or digital camera whatever it so be called) help educate children? Don't get me wrong, I think education is extremely important and I use computers to learn more than I ever learned in school. The OLPC is a great idea with pros and cons like any tool ever invented. However; being a graduate of a Computer Security Investigations diploma and working with law enforcement on the subject of technology involved with online child exploitation, it is evident that yes a powerful and positive tool may be used for most any ill intended act.

What I do not understand is why a web camera is essential in a tool for education. I understand that a large portion of communities who receive this laptop will not have Internet access, but it doesn't take Internet access to exploit children. One camera that can self develop digital photos is just as dangerous as having so many young children prowling through the Internet. I do not see loosing any educational value by removing the web camera from these laptops. The only outcome would be less power consumption, lower cost, and a safer experience for any child. I agree that Internet safety training can help educate children safe Internet use, but even with just community networking, is “safe computer training” really as efficient as removing a piece of this laptop that does not contribute to any educational purpose. D, Canada.

Router-based content filtering/ parental controls

How can I protect my child from porn and adults-only content?

In the US, most parents have access only to Windows-based content filtering software. That means that for children accessing the net at home in the US, the only ways to monitor content are 1)being in the same room and 2) implement some router-based content-filtering solution. Obviously, this is not a XO specific problem, but perhaps the Wiki can have community pages to recommend some router solutions.
I read that as either "How can I spare myself the awkwardness of walking in on my child while he enjoys some porn?" or "Can I have the computer enforce my morals so that I don't have to spend time with my kids?". (in other words, focused on you rather than the child) FYI, in many parts of the world it is common for families to live in 1-room houses. The kids get live action! Even Abraham Lincoln grew up that way, and he turned out OK. When I was 6 to 9, my school got numerous porn magazines blown into the yard from the construction sites next to the school. I too turned out OK. (with a strong decade-old marriage) Kids can even draw their own porn with the paint program (done it), dare each other to show off their parts (a friend did), or make the family dog ejaculate (my wife did). It's normal. It's a learning activity. It doesn't turn them into perverts, get anybody pregnant, or spread diseases.
In the US, most parents don't teach math and science to their kids. Your effort is better spent doing that.
If there is any computer-related thing that you need to keep from your kids, it is addictive games. Little is learned, and much time is wasted. Random web surfing is more useful. Even chatrooms are more useful.

Please spare me your uniformed rant. Kids being exposed to porn is not a good thing, if you don't agree, then feel free to raise your own children with plenty of porn. Anyone have a helpful answer to the question?

Marketing to Children

What access will third parties (corporations) have to the mesh network, more specifically will direct marketing be permitted to children via this computer?

The intention is for the mesh network to be secure. Since it is a mesh, there is no central point at which communications can be tapped even if we wanted to do it. For instance, imagine a long narrow valley with a town at one end, and two kids living 100 km away but on opposite slopes with 5 km between the houses. The two kids will be able to communicate directly with the mesh network capability, but no-one in town will even detect their wifi signal.thats wats it is
Or to answer more directly, no, direct marketing to children will not be permitted over the mesh.

Gender and Gender Neutrality Objectives

Many studies over the years have shown that the only proven, effective, long-term development strategies in developing countries are those which take into account and improve the lives, skillsets, health, or educational opportunities/access of women and girls. Yet in many developing countries, boys continue to be disproportionately represented in the classroom, particularly in countries where tuition must be paid, and in the realm of technology.

Will OLPC be taking any steps to assure either the gender-neutrality of its laptops, software, distribution and marketing, or better yet, to include positive female models in its software or marketing from which both genders can learn?

By this I emphatically do not mean something as superficial as pink laptops, but rather encourage your development teams and marketing/distribution teams to consider and at all stages keep in mind the issue of gender and the proven effectiveness of development strategies which pay special attention to the educational needs of women and girls. MKW, New York

In many cultures, even western countries, there is no blue/pink gender distinction. In such countries boys have no problem with pink things and children wear a wider variety of colours than in North America or England.
The OLPC does not distribute computers to kids. They design computers, arrange for them to be built and arrange for them to be shipped to national governments. If you want national governments to pay attention to gender issues, then you must target them directly. The OLPC will not be a shortcut for dealing with such issues. Note that one way to address the issues is to develop educational content that will lead the target government to want to give more computers to girls. But again, that content development is YOUR responsibility, not that of OLPC.
It is well known in development circles that educating girls is the key element in population control, health, the education of the next generation, creating a fair system of laws, and the growth of the economy. None of us are stupid enough to ignore this. Anyway, it's an open system running Free Software. Write your own gender-neutral education materials, if that's what you think we need most. Show the rest of us how to do it, and we'll pitch in. --Mokurai 06:59, 21 November 2006 (EST)

Overall impact

What would be the possible social, technological and economic implications of the commitment to the initiative for a country like Nigeria or similar?

You mean like ending poverty, empowering the entire population politically, recording and saving all of Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, and other Nigerian culture, and setting Nigeria on the path to full development? I have no idea what technology will come out of Nigeria after all that, but I'm sure that it will.--Mokurai 02:23, 13 October 2006 (EDT)
See Social Impact--Mokurai 18:17, 15 October 2006 (EDT)

Lack of Schools and Infrastructure

How will OLPC benefit countries when the majority of children do not attend public school or public school is not available?

Your statistics are questionable. What is your source for such an outrageous statement? In any case, the OLPC is not distributing laptops to schools, they are distributing laptops to kids. In thousands of small towns and villages, the existence of a mesh of laptops will create a learning infrastructure that can function without a school building.

Intellectual Property Rights

Another poster mentioned scams, but I can see spam and virus generation as also a problem (there goes the Linux virus advantage).

I love the idea. In addition to the effect on the countries involved, I think that worldwide, lots of open source projects, including Wikipedia, are going to get a tremendous boost from this. I don't think the world has any idea what's going to hit it. But there's also a tremendous potential for abuse, and I think that OLPC (and your community, i.e. us) has a responsibility to be thinking about that also.

-- 07:31, 17 October 2006 (EDT)

We are talking licensing very seriously with the machine. We will be introducing "digital rights expression" as a core feature of the machine. --Walter 18:53, 17 October 2006 (EDT)
These sound like very hackable machines. Beyond expression, how do you do enforcement? -- 05:47, 18 October 2006 (EDT)
Theoretically, just because a person is poor or lives in a poor country does not mean that he should be treated as a criminal. If a Western government sees fit to permit computer exports to the wealthy elite of a poor nation with mild copyright laws, they should not bar the way of computers sent for humanitarian purposes to their common people. If a wealthy American or European is allowed to buy a computer that may permit him to pirate software or music if he chooses to, the same should be true for Bolivian schoolchildren. But I fear that it may take a great deal of advocacy to try to persuade many people of this basic principle. Yet consider the irony: the poor of the world spend little if anything on music or software, so the actual cost of their violations to authors is exceedingly low - while the software they learn to create and freely distribute on these open-access systems will be of great value to everyone in the world. Mike Serfas 22:32, 25 October 2006 (EDT)
Linux users do not pirate software, as a rule. This is because their software is Free. We will be promoting Creative Commons-Developing Countries licensing for other media, so that piracy will not be necessary. --Mokurai 18:45, 9 November 2006 (EST)

Malware and Productivity Security

How secure is the UI against virus, malware and other attacks? Because, it would seem that it wouldnt take long to infect all of Thailand's computers if they are all networked.

The OLPC doesn't run Windows. In fact it doesn't run standard Linux either.
The OLPC is designed so that the software in ROM can be easily and quickly be upgraded in the field. If we discover that someone is exploiting a security weakness, we can and will quickly fix it.
Does that not contradict itself? If it's field-upgradable, it's not ROM. If it's not ROM, then it's writable. If it's writable, then what keeps malware from writing to it?

Deployment Governability

Government efficiency

Also, I fear for the safety of the project, when you say the computers will be given to governments, who will distribute them to the people...We have all seen on TV the enormous amount of waste/inequality and abuse of power by governments of poor nations, that are given large handouts by outsiders. If food is wasted, and sold on the black market, you'd better be awfully careful with handing out computers! Even cheap ones! Why not get involved with teachers in schools in these poor nations, and head directly for the source instead of going through the middleman, and the buerocracy?.

Don't fear for the safety of OLPC. We don't have all our eggs in one basket; we are working with many different governments. If one government misbehaves, then they will be publicly embarassed because people can compare their behavior with other country governments. In particular, if Libya lives up to its promises then they will set a very high standard for other governments.
Also, the laptops will not be GIVEN to governments. The government must buy the laptops. And OLPC is not walking away from teachers and schools. On the contrary, we are developing working groups of teachers and school officials in the target countries to explain to them how the laptops can be used. We will provide ongoing support for these working groups and they, in turn, will support the teachers and schools in their country.


I am concerned about Government abuse with this program. How would you monitor the Government of the country in which these laptops are distributed, to be sure that they go directly to the needy children? Some of these government officials are corrupted and might distribute these laptops to their relatives and friends with just a few going to the needy. How will this program be monitored? I am very concerned about this.

The OLPC cannot solve all the ills of the world. However we have gone to some effort to design a laptop that is unlike any existing laptops. The OLPC laptops are smaller than normal, slower than normal with less storage than normal. They are ideal for kids to use in education but not very useful for running a business or playing video games. From a cost-benefit point of view it would seem that a corrupt government leader would do better to spend their $100 million on something other than OLPC laptops.

Ownership and Selling of Laptops

If children are given the laptops, isn't it reasonable to assume that their families (most of which will assumingly be poor) might sell the laptops? I see the potential for a black market of these wonderful devices.

I think the participant countries can reduce the possibility of OLPC theft and illegal resale by:

  1. keeping the laptops at school and only allowing the kids to take them home if there are needs like homework and exams.
  2. Making parents to sign a promissory note at the initial issue agreeing that they will do their best to take care of it when the child brings it to home.
  3. The wifi adapter can be used to track stolen OLPCs.
  4. In the countries with high OLPC theft incidents the government in the country can launch public awareness media campaign to educate the public that stealing an OLPC = robbing a child's future.
  5. With cooperation from online auctions like Ebay they can ban/restrict the unauthorized resale of OLPCs.
  6. Buy 2 give one free" program will reduce the demand for the OLPC in the developed world. Like rich first worlders willing to pay unreasonably high prices for the OLPC for novelty purposes.
  7. As a more objective solution to the issue in your question, the UN child labor laws should be slightly altered to adapt the needs of the children today. What I mean by that is although it is wrong to exploit children by forcing them to work in dangerous manual labor jobs, if the IT companies want to provide them will opportunities to earn some money in exchange for doing some light programming or data entry jobs for limited periods it should be allowed. That way the OLPC will become a tool that they can use to earn money too and hence they wont need to sell it for food money :-)


That is a risk. The main solution currently put forward by the OLPC (afaik) is flooding the environment with laptops (making them effectively worthless in a monetary sense since every child would have access to them, and through them, the whole community), and using social condemnation or stigma for when a person (adult) is known to have one (because after all the laptop is visibly a child's property). Now lets move to your items... :)
  1. the intent is for the child to own the laptop. Ownership is a much better deterrent when damage may occur. Depriving them (and their families) from access to it makes that sense of property disappear.
  2. signing a piece of paper would imply some sort of penalization if the 'deal' is broken... don't like it (personally)
  3. wifi tracker? maybe... but since MAC addresses (although burned) can be spoofed...
  4. campaigns should anticipate, not follow the problem - the damage will have been done already and the social stigma may be too hard to recover
  5. eBay and similar will most likely help if the problem arises
  6. a Buy 2 Get 1 program may in some ways make the problem worse: why pay double if you can get it half-price?
  7. the United Nations doesn't make laws - just treaties, conventions, and similar to be signed (and passed into laws) by each country. Exploitation is condemmed, the same as hazardous and other types of 'improper' work. The charter (afaik) doesn't forbid a child from performing work and participating in the family's well-being (that would be inaplicable in most of the world - even in the developed world) For the record, the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Article 32 states:
    • 1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
    • 2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:
      • (a) Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;
      • (b) Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;
      • (c) Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the present article.
Cheers --Xavi 14:03, 20 January 2007 (EST)

Military use

While this issue is mostly overlooked, it may surprise you to know that XO hardware, being somewhere in between industrial and MILSPEC hardened, equipped with extremely sophisticated networking measures, makes for a very powerful tactical computer. with the right software changes, a lot of militias, insurgents or even third-world state armies would be happy to put their paws on a shipment. XO's relatively modest hardware can easily host an embedded combat application. moral considerations would also not be a deterrant to these kind of people. with some modification capability, such an organization can remove distinctive marks from the laptops. While all the components are readily available in the market, the research, development and integration effort is beyond the capabilities of most such organizations. by performing this service for them and shipping "free" laptops, there is potential for serious havoc. (I'm a retired c4l officer and a systems administrator and have dealt with tactical computing before).

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