Trustworthy Stupidity

Somewhere amid today’s news of ‘Do Not Call’ lists being blocked, AMD releasing 64-bit processors, and the gubernatorial debates in California was a wonderful nugget of pure idiocy from none other than Microsoft. In the name of stopping pedophiles and spammers, Microsoft’s MSN division announced that it will be shutting down its chat rooms in 28 countries next month. (You can read about it from

Stopping pedophiles and spammers sounds like a noble thing to do, doesn’t it? But the method Microsoft has chosen to reach those ends is tantamount to removing a mole with a flame-thrower. To understate the obvious, Bill Gates and company are going way overboard.

But, wait! If you happen to live in the United States, Canada, Japan, or Brazil you can keep your pedophile and spam-filled MSN chat! All you have to do is—drum roll please—sign up as a paid MSN subscriber.

Now let’s cut the crap. Microsoft doesn’t care about pedophiles or spammers any more than they care about reliability or logical user interfaces. Microsoft cares about money. Microsoft cares about lots and lots and lots of money. Any student of computer history, or attentive normal person, is well aware that Microsoft is on a quest for obscene gobs of money. They have never cared who they trampled or hurt or wronged in the process.

Microsoft doesn’t care about your children, but the company does have the sense to take every opportunity to make you think they do. Why? Because if you think big ol’ Microsoft will protect your children, you’ll be more likely to buy their product.

The gruesome irony is that these supposedly dangerous unsupervised chat rooms are now only available to you if you are an MSN subscriber. “Don’t worry user, we’re Microsoft, harbingers of Trustworthy Computing, your children are safe on our groundbreaking MSN service.” Yeah, right, that’s why when you shut off your chat rooms to the rest of the world it was because—quoting MSN spokesman Matt Wittingham now—”we have become increasingly concerned about the level of inappropriate communication, including spam, the grooming of children by pedophiles, and sexually explicit language and imagery in chat rooms.”

But you all know that I don’t like Microsoft. I’m a computer nerd, have been since I was in elementary school, and used Windows from version 3.1 up through 98SE before coming to my senses and realizing it wasn’t worth the trouble. That’s why I bought a Mac. I still keep up with the Windows side of things and am well aware that Windows 2000 and Windows XP are actually much better, if still inelegant. So, for all among you who think I’m lashing out at a highly successful computer company out of personal spite for the hundreds of Blue Screens of Death that interrupted my homework, writing, and IM conversations from about 1993 to 2001, rest assured: I am shifting targets.

For a moment, lets suspend all sense of reality and assume that Microsoft was really acting, ahem, in the interest of the children. Heck, we don’t even have to assume that—I will go out on a limb and say that, in all likelihood, there were a lot of pedophiles and spammers on MSN’s chat service. I’ve never used it, but I’ve used Yahoo!’s chat service and others and am well aware that they attract some of that demographic.

The important question to ask is not to be directed at Yahoo! or MSN’s chat room services, but at the parents who allow their children to spend time in these online communities unsupervised and, often, with little or no direction. It is not Microsoft’s job to protect children from pedophiles on the internet; it is a parent’s job to know what their children are up to and to make sure their children are well equipped to deal with the bad people in the world.

My question to these parents is simple. What makes you think that Microsoft should be looking out for your kids? What makes you think that you are fulfilling your responsibilities to your children when you plop them in front of a television or a computer and say, “Here you go, play with this, Mommy/Daddy has work to do.”

The answer is that you are not fulfilling your duties as a parent if you do not parent your child. I wish it weren’t necessary to remind you, but parent means “A guardian; a protector.” Look it up.

But more importantly than being a guardian and protector who keeps a watchful eye on their kids, a parent is also supposed to be one who “nurtures and raises a child.” That means that you should not only keep an eye on whether or not your children are cavorting around chat rooms with pedophiles, but you should have talked to your kids about some of the bad people they might run into online and in the world and teach them how to deal with those situations correctly.

It sounds good—regardless of real motivation—when a company like Microsoft does something that further insulates ‘innocent’ children from the true, often-dirty nature of the world. It sounds wonderful when schools and government agencies come up with new, inventive ways to shepherd children safely through society. But as good as it sounds, these things make me cringe for the simple reason that they justify and encourage lazy, irresponsible parenting.

Far too many people expect that their children will pick up good judgment and morality from their schools, from television, and from the internet. They will not. Microsoft pulling the plug on its sometimes-crude chat rooms may keep some pedophiles from getting in touch with children, but it will not teach those children what to do if ever approached by an online pedophile on another chat service. It most certainly will not help that child to deal with a real pedophile they may run into in the real world. Chew on that for a while.

It is sad that we live in a society where the haphazard money-driven PR stunt of a huge corporation is permitted to substitute for a life lesson. It is frightening that parents are willingly ceding control over their children’s lives to internet and media corporations and a mediocre public schooling system. Microsoft’s new, laughable mantra is “Trustworthy Computing,” but parenting today is too often an exercise in trustworthy stupidity.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.