The Government is being urged to consider tightening up data protection laws for children on the back of a new report which claims kids are being “datafied” from birth with little thought being given to the consequences.
The research – called Who Knows What About Me – by the Children’s Commissioner for England, also calls on companies producing apps, toys and other products aimed at children to be more transparent about how they are capturing information about children and how it is being used, and argues that children should be taught in schools about how their data is collected.
The report claims that children aged 11-16 post on social media on average 26 times a day, which means by the age of 18 they are likely to have posted 70,000 times. By the age of 13, a child’s parents will have posted on average 1,300 photos and videos of them to social media.
Many children too young to use the Internet are also using connected toys, many of which gather personal information and messages. Last year, 2 million CloudPets voice messages shared between children and their family members were found being stored unprotected online.
It warns the sheer volume of information could have serious consequences for children when the grow up as more and more important decisions were being influenced by algorithms looking through personal data.
The report said in the future such information could influence which universities people are accepted to, whether they received a mortgage or even their job applications.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Children are often shocked to learn just how information and data is collected about them as they grow up, from the information stored by new gadgets like Alexa to data held by their schools. We need to make sure that they can make informed choices about the data they are giving away and that their parents know who knows what about their kids. The Government must urgently refine data protection legislation if GDPR does not prove up to the job.
“I also want to see all manufacturers and the big Internet companies be transparent about how their devices are capturing information about children, toy manufacturers clearly labelling their packaging if they are capturing children’s audio or video and a statutory duty of care between the social media giants and their younger users.
“This is an issue that will only grow as technology continues to advance and it is vital that protections are put in place by the Government so that any data collected about children is done transparently and is used only for positive reasons.”
It is an issue which is already on the Information Commissioner’s radar. Last year it handed a grant to the London School of Economics (LSE) for its project looking at children’s information rights and privacy. This will examine the evidence gaps in children’s capacity to consent, their functional skills and understanding of the commercial online environment.
Research will be carried out to inform child-inclusive policies and recommendations for education. The end result will be an online toolkit for children to increase their awareness and competency around online privacy. Evidence obtained from this project will also help parents and teachers understand what children do online and how to provide support and guidance to them.
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