Today many parents are happy about their family in social media. Along with these enchanting photos, they share vital data about their children, which are harvested by large tech companies.
A recent study on children's "data collection" and its potential implications suggests that these sites are more problematic than we think
At the end of November, Anne Longfield, England's Children's Commissioner, published the funding and was tasked with the protection of children's rights, a report entitled "Who Knows What About Me," which examines how large technology collects data about children and what the potential is for danger.
In the report, Longfield argues that parents expose their children's data at an alarming rate. The report calculates that 70,000 posts will be published on the Internet by the age of 1
"We need to stop and think about what this means for children's lives now and how that can affect their future adult lives," writes Longfield. "This only gets bigger – so let's take action now to understand and control who knows our children."
The data exchanged between parents and children is being captured to an alarming degree
. Possible dangers for children are no longer just raging cars and strangers with sweets. With the advent of intelligent technologies and data collection devices, tons of private information are being collected and disseminated in a completely new way. The full extent to which our data is captured and used is still something we are still working on to understand, let alone explain, children.
In her report, Longfield writes that today's children are at greatest risk because they have the largest digital footprint in history. Between the Nest cameras watching children at home, the kids games they target, and Amazon and Google buying preferences, their data is harvested at unprecedented speed.
And some children are already provided with data before birth. Several key reports have shown how technology companies learn about pregnant women based on the goods they buy and then use the information to target them with maternity and baby product ads. At Jezebel, a woman wrote about purchasing prenatal vitamins on Amazon when she heard an ad for a prenatal doctor on Spotify a few months later.
As soon as children are born, brands have many opportunities to gather information about them and how to get their way. According to the London School of Economics and Political Science, their parents researched Longfield for the report.
A great culprit: "Sharinging" or parents who willingly divulge their children's information such as name and date of birth. These Facebook birth announcements can be published with innocent intentions, but they can have serious consequences. According to Barclays security experts consulted for the report of the Children's Commissioner, the door to identity theft remains open. The experts cited criminal reports in which the data of children up to the age of 18 years were kept, and then fraudulent credit card and loan applications were made in their name.
Important identity traits such as the name of a pet or a maiden's maiden name are easily tracked on social media. Barclays, the report said, "predicts that by 2030, two-thirds of identity fraud involving young people over the age of 18 will be caused by" sharing. "
Site sharing is another significant misuse of data. For example, these photos for the first day of school may be tagged with the location of the school that can display the address of the school (and the child). Snapchat also has a site sharing feature where users can see where they are. Longfield points out that while this feature is only visible to users on a child's friends list, "children are often friends with online friends who they do not know in real life, and some may use the Snap-Maps "speak to."
Intelligent devices also monitor children – and collect their data
Smart toys have already been widely criticized for making child data such as location vulnerable. British researchers from Pen Test Partners have found toys such as Teksta Toucan and My Friend Cayla susceptible to hacking. They are Bluetooth enabled and their microphones and speakers connect to the Internet, but they were not built with certainty. In 2017, it became known that the smart-toy brand CloudPets kept voice recordings and photos of millions of children and that hackers had compromised that data.
Smart speakers also had security problems. Amazon has said his smart speakers do not spy on users, but those claims were questioned after a woman in Portland found out that her echo spokesman had recorded a conversation she'd had with her husband and sent it to someone had forwarded random contact. (Amazon issued a special echo to children the same month this breach occurred.) YouTube was also accused of collecting data about children.
But tech companies also collect data that is not voluntarily handed over by their parents or children. Children Derived data is based on algorithms and predictions, for example. Companies track what someone likes on Facebook, watch on YouTube, and buy from Amazon. This information is then used to predict what buyers look like, and companies can target ads with children and parents. Longfield writes in the report that "the amount of data derived from children was a real problem." Families are now being approached with products because they are basically being watched every time they are online.
"Collecting so much data about children raises important questions about their freedom and independence," the report says. "So much data from children sends the wrong message – they do not convey how valuable and sensitive personal information is and how important it is to protect it."
What does all this data about children mean for their future?
The report highlights current safety concerns about the privacy of children, but also mentions some worrying future opportunities. Longfield wonders if children's data will reappear in a few decades and harm them in the long term. There have been cases in which children have sued their parents for publishing their photos on social networks without their consent, but Longfield believes that the use of data collection could be even higher.
"It is much less known how personal information collected in childhood could be used to shape a person's experiences and perspectives in the long term – for better or for worse," the report said. "Could data on a child's language development and early educational attainment at the age of four play a role in the university's application results? … Could personal health data have an impact on insurance coverage in the future?
These are questions for which there are still no answers. Although it is highly unlikely that smart toys will disappear or technology companies are turning their kids back to creating targeted ads, there are a few steps parents and businesses can take to mitigate this mass data collection.
Longfield urges tech companies to design terms and conditions with words that can actually be deciphered so that parents and children understand what they are buying and how their information can be used. The report also recommends parents mute intelligent speakers if they do not want their children to be listened to and do not share important information about children such as their children's school address.
And most simply, the next time you publish a photo of your child on social media, you should not go ahead and think about what kind of data you could use with a seemingly innocent baby program.