Protecting kids' privacy: some challenges
Because increasing volumes of data about children are being collected by online apps and commercial and non-commercial online services all over the world, it is vital to increase awareness about these issues and support parents, educators as well as children to make good decisions about their privacy online .
As stated in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), children ‘may be less aware of the risks, consequences and safeguards concerned and their rights in relation to the processing of personal data , therefore, they deserve tailored mechanisms to protect their online privacy.
Many children believe that they possess adequate privacy skills. However, research shows that most children and young people are only partially aware of privacy-related risks. In fact, children and young people seem to be mainly aware of interpersonal privacy (e.g., knowing what and with whom to share information online or being able to use privacy settings) , but their awareness of commercial and institutional privacy remains low. This helps explain why many young people believe that privacy is their own problem and that they carry most of the responsibility to ensure that their information is protected .
Schools can be a good place for children and young people to learn about privacy, however, the use of technology in schools can also pose risks to children’s privacy . For instance, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdowns, many schools switched to commercial, educational platforms that exploit children’s data .
Research shows that many children and young people have experienced some form of privacy violation. For instance, in Belgium, 34% of the Flemish youth claim to have experienced violations of their privacy . The same research also shows that youth’s main concerns about privacy include worrying that their information can be misused or that others can find embarrassing things about them online .
Useful tips for educators
If online education resources or platforms are used in school, it is advisable for educators to check in advance.
Is the tool a real added value? In other words, can the educational activity happen without using this tool?
Which personal data is collected by the tool?
Does the tool forward personal data to third parties?
Are there similar tools that collect less personal data?
Is the connection with the tool secure?
Is the use of this tool discussed and approved by the school board?
Schools should focus on open communication with parents and children. If a school is looking to implement a new educational platform or technology, the children and parents should be informed from the beginning, several options should be presented, including providing information on how the platform would collect data and in what way this data is used and stored. This will not only increase transparency but will also serve to raise awareness about privacy-related issues.
If schools wish to teach about online privacy, it is important to focus on different privacy contexts (interpersonal, commercial and institutional) and also refer to the different contexts where their data can be collected, for instance, via apps and online services they use, but also through smart toys, connected devices used at home, at school and other institutions .
Children should be educated early on about the ways in which their data might be collected and used by commercial and non-commercial organizations so that from an early age, they can understand why privacy matters and learn strategies to protect it better .
Education policymakers should invest more in fostering the digital skills of all children and especially support them to develop critical skills and other soft skills that can help them understand how the internet works and how to use it more responsibly, positively, and safely .
Recommended resources and further reading
Siibak, A., & Mascheroni, G. (2021). Children's data and privacy in the digital age. (CO:RE Short Report Series on Key Topics). Hamburg: Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI); CO:RE - Children Online: Research and Evidence. https://doi.org/10.21241/ssoar.76251 OA
Your Data Is Shared and Sold... What’s Being Done About It? - Knowledge at Wharton (upenn.edu)
My data and privacy online. A toolkit for young people (For educators): This is a toolkit for teachers, school librarians and other educators keen to teach children about their data and privacy online, including data protection, the digital economy and a range of privacy issues. It is aimed at children of secondary school age and provides information and resources that educators can recommend to children, use in the classroom, or use in their own practice.
Educational resources for teachers: resources for teachers to help educate children about privacy (including lesson plans, presentation packages, activity sheets, videos and a graphic novel (comics) with discussion guide) (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada)
Children’s Commissioner (2018). Who knows what about me? A Children’s Commissioner report into the collection and sharing of children’s data cco-who-knows-what-about-me.pdf (childrenscommissioner.gov.uk): This report draws attention to the vast amounts of data collected about children growing up today and the ways in which it might shape their lives – not just in the short term, but also in the future, as adults.
Further helpful resources
What are the challenges in protecting children's privacy & what useful tips are there for educators?What are the challenges in protecting children's privacy & what useful tips are there for educators?
CO:RE Short Report on Key Topics : The datafied childhood of Jane: from prenatal to puberty
Research Ethics (external link) : The General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’) and a complete guide to GDPR compliance
Research Ethics (external link) : National Data Protection Authorities within the European Union
Research Ethics : Informing children about their rights as research participants: An open source animation film for researchers who work with children and young people
Siibak, A. & Mascheroni, G. (2021). Children's data and privacy in the digital age. (CO:RE Short Report Series on Key Topics). Hamburg: Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI); CO:RE - Children Online: Research and Evidence. https://doi.org/10.21241/ssoar.76251
Livingstone, S., Stoilova, M. & Nandagiri, R. (2019). My Data and Privacy Online. A toolkit for young people. https://www.lse.ac.uk/my-privacy-uk/for-educators
European Commission (2016, April 27). Regulation (EU0 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation). https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A02016R0679-20160504&qid=1532348683434
Kardefelt Winther, D., Livingstone, S. & Saeed, M, (2019). Growing up in a connected world. Innocenti Research Report. Florence: UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti. https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/1060-growing-up-in-a-connected-world.html
Vanwynsberghe, H., Joris, G., Waeterloos, C., Anrijs, S., Vanden Abeele, M., Ponnet, K., De Wolf, R., Van Ouytsel, J., Van Damme, K., Vissenberg, J., D’Haenens, L., Zenner, E., Peters, E., De Pauw, S., Frissen, L. & Schreuer, C. (2022). Onderzoeksrapport Apestaartjaren: de digitale leefwereld van kinderen en jongeren. https://www.apestaartjaren.be/
Kumar, P. C., Chetty, M., Clegg, T. L. & Vitak, J. (2019). Privacy and security considerations for digital technology use in elementary schools. Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1-13. https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/3290605.3300537?casa_token=WS-NZeXOs48AAAAA:voNg2rmsM7MkorB1FANqF3lynHhKVsJT1vC874n5_X21K_d7sw3-m3NpEwJM_q2USbXV0kKYtzcWtA
Teräs, M., Suoranta, J., Teräs, H. & Curcher, M. (2020). Post-Covid-19 education and education technology ‘solutionism’: A seller’s market. Postdigital Science and Education, 2(3), 863-878. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42438-020-00164-x
UK Children’s Commissioner (2018). Who knows what about me? A Children’s Commissioner report into the collection and sharing of children’s data. https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/digital/who-knows-what-about-me
van Deursen, A. J. & Helsper, E. J. (2020). Digitale vaardigheden: Een onderzoeks-en beleidsagenda. https://research.utwente.nl/en/publications/digitale-vaardigheden-een-onderzoeks-en-beleidsagend