Google wants your children to be “safe, confident explorers of the online world,” so they’ve introduced a digital tool into classrooms to help the kiddos do it. Called Interland, it’s a series of online games that teaches elementary school kids to spread positivity, safeguard their private information, encourage “thoughtful sharing,” and even spot and avoid fake news.
First stop: Kind Kingdom. That’s where you play an Internaut in a sunny, forested land that has fallen victim to bullies. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to report the bullies, block them from harming other Internauts, and collect “kindness” in the form of hearts that you then share with Internauts who could use some love. Awww!
Other games include Mindful Mountain, where kids learn not to overshare personal information; sadly, there isn’t a game for parents who overshare on social media. But there is the Tower of Treasure, where players must outrun hackers and store their emails and other private information in the safety of the tower.
There’s also Reality River, where you must correctly answer a series of questions about online security in order to avoid falling into the water. For example, “You get a chain email from a friend daring you to forward it to 10 other friends in order to win a cool phone. What do you do?”
I’ll give you a hint. If you select “send it to 20 friends,” you belly flop into the river. Ouch.
Interland is part of Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” educational campaign, which aims to help children make smart decisions on the Internet. In addition to using the game in their classrooms, teachers can download lesson plans and classroom activities to further their students’ understanding of how they can protect themselves online.
The Google Interland game is cute and fun — but is Google really a trustworthy authority on Internet security? After all, this is the same company that was developing a censored version of its search engine for use in China, and had apparently been tracking users who turned off their location history.
According to the New York Times, critics argue that Google’s “lessons give children the mistaken impression that the main threat they face online is from malicious hackers and bullies, glossing over the privacy concerns that arise when tech giants like Google itself collect users’ personal information and track their actions online.”
However, it should be noted that Google partnered with several reputable companies in order to bring Interland to life. Those companies include ConnectSafely, a nonprofit organization that educates users about online security, and iKeepSafe, an internet safety coalition that “certifies digital products as compliant with state and federal requirements for handling protected personal information.”
No matter how you feel about Google, I can tell you that playing Interland was a joy even for an old fogey like me. And I certainly got the impression that it would be an effective and impactful tool for educators. Just a word of warning: Avoid those nasty phishers in Reality River!