Children’s digital footprints

IMG_20181108_232524Yesterday Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, released a report called Who knows what about me?. It considers how children’s data is collected and used and what the implications might be of this. We’ve written previously about the not-so-secret lives of children and how data about children is shared, for instance that in 2016 on average every year UK parents shared almost 300 photos of their children online and of other people’s children 30 times. This new report reinforces those findings, suggesting that on average parents have uploaded 1300 photos and videos of their children online by the time their child reaches 13 and that when the children themselves gain access to social media accounts they post on average 26 times a day.

We know there’s a moral panic about children’s social media usage, and how it contributes to children’s data footprints. But the Children’s Commissioner highlights other ways in which data about children is being created and what risks this data collection may pose. For instance, how many homes have baby video monitors which are in danger of being hacked so that other people can watch children through these as they sleep and play. She also draws attention to internet-connected toys which often have unprotected accounts so that messages that children send and receive through the devices can be accessed by others, for instance Cloud Pets. Similarly the consumer organisation Which? have also warned of lax security on some internet-connected toys which means that it would be possible for others to send and receive messages from toys they could link up with via Bluetooth. And this isn’t just a UK concern; in Germany parents were told to destroy My Friend Cayla dolls after claims they were spying on children.

What’s scary about the rise in children’s data footprints is that we don’t know what the long-term risks of the increase in data collection. The report suggests that it may lead to identity theft and fraud because of how much personal information parents inadvertently reveal about their children online. It also states that there’s the danger that the increased amount of data about individuals may lead to profiling, where companies may use it to decide who to employ and banks decide who to lend money to.

Longfield’s report shares 10 top tips for parents and children for how to reduce their data footprints. For instance, she recommends that children (and their parents) think carefully before sharing information online and have a look at to the Children’s Commissioner’s Digital 5 a Day to help them reflect on their digital practices. She also suggests that parents change the default passwords on the devices their children use and look out for security updates on products.

It’s clear we need to be mindful of what information is being collected and distributed about children. What top tips would you give parents and children to minimise how much data about them is created?

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