Children’s online privacy has gained a lot of consideration in media, educational institutes, regulatory frameworks, and every household. Creating personal profiles, messaging classmates, and expressing opinions online have become standard and commonplace behaviours for today’s children. Amidst this digital revolution, parents are alarmed that their children might not be sufficiently protecting themselves in the digital world. As children and youth gain more and more access to the digital world, they actively create digital footprints, participate, interact in digital environments, play online games, and collaborate with neighbourhoods. The challenge is to strike a balance between children’s control over their personally identifiable information and their involvement or control over online privacy. It is essential to consider who will make this decision? The digital service providers, the government, the regulators, parents, or children on their own?
The overall unregulated role that information-oriented digital marketing is playing in children’s lives is worrying. From undervaluing their digital privacy and pursuing them to shop for unhealthy food, forcing their guardians to pay for online services, or sneakily hijacking their identity and social interactions. Digital service providers are playing a crucial role in influencing the present and future generations of people.
Smart toys and their controversial connectivity to cloud storage also raises many issues regarding children’s digital privacy. Parents are struggling to guard their privacy while availing services online. Right now, there is not enough support for protecting children’s privacy. The existing techniques for privacy protection and controls (such as user authentication, anti-phishing, email security, social media privacy and privacy policies) still lack usability for children.
Part of the problem in finding ways to protect children’s privacy in the online world starts with understanding privacy. Adults may see privacy as protecting personally identifiable information from outside intervention, but there are indications that younger people have a contradictory understanding of the concept. One of Warren and Brandeis’s earliest definitions of privacy is the “right to be let alone”, and this definition is what children want. Privacy for children is more about right over their personal space. It is imperative to make the digital world a safer place for children without surveillance over their personal space. Furthermore, child users are highly affected by data analytics and marketing campaigns and impacted by a lack of education and awareness on the regulatory and ethical consequences of their online interactions. It is unreasonable to expect children to read and agree to privacy policies written in a language too difficult for them to understand.
Adding to the problem is the lack of regulatory support. For example, in Australia, The Privacy Act 1988 does not stipulate a suitable age after which anyone can make their own privacy decision and consent for online information sharing. For their consent to be acceptable, an individual must have the ability to consent. The general principle is that a person under the age of 18 has the capability to consent if they have the maturity to realize the impacts and consequences of disclosing their information. If there is not enough maturity, it may be suitable for parents to consent for their benefit. The question is how that maturity is measured? These challenges raise serious fears about children’s digital privacy that pursue children into adulthood, influencing their education, career and healthcare.
What solutions are there?
Digital Privacy needs to be taken into consideration from a broader perspective in terms of its wider connection to a child’s health and well-being. The existing regulations provide guidelines for children’s digital privacy; however, this level of privacy protection is restricted and constantly confronted by ever more sophisticated advertising and data collection methods. Regulators should expand regulatory requirements around children’s privacy safeguard in today’s modern digital ecosystems.
Restricting access to the internet or increasing more parental control might not be the best thing to do. These restrictions may result in the likely costs in children’s decreased prospects for creative, educational, civic and communicative endeavours on the internet. Rather than taking the internet away from children, the internet should be made a more secure place for them through various digital platforms and other online service providers. Age gating online services, games and social media access might limit the unnecessary collection and disclosure of personal information.
Schools in collaboration with other institutions should develop digital privacy awareness and literacy programs to help children avail online services without compromising their basic right to privacy. Creating more awareness among children and parents, including educating them about staying safe online, could also fall in this domain of activity.