It’s sometimes helpful to consider an offline analogy. If an eight year old was roaming around a community littering the place with pieces of paper with their personal data on – most people would rightly be concerned about that. Likewise, if a teenager left her contact details highlighting when her parents were out of the house in an adult club, we would be concerned. Our concerns would be for their safety, their wellbeing and their privacy. As offline, so online. If Paw Patrol is most watched on a streaming service, and the soundtrack for Glee or Frozen II is regularly requested from a smartspeaker, assumptions will be made about the ages of the occupants in that household. Add to that the insights from the online food shop and income brackets can be identified.
The question then becomes – if these data points exit about the home and its occupants are they shared elsewhere – does that matter?. One’s answer to that question may depend on one’s philosophical or political perspective. You could say yes it matters as I have no wish to share those details with a company over which I have no control or even insight to what use they put my data. You could equally say no, I have nothing to hide and I really love the personalisation that comes with being ‘known’ by brands. But the fundamental point here is that consumers / subscribers / viewers / voters, call them what you will, should be in a position to make an active choice and to do that, they have to have accurate, transparent and digestible information about what happens to their data.
Perhaps there are no clear cut yes or no answers here, more a recognition that this conversation has not been and is not being had, and yet our report suggests that the deployment of smart devices is set to increase and has been accelerated by the lockdown.
How you get people to care about this is extremely tricky. From our experience of getting parents to engage in the online safety of their children – we know that there are four primary opportunities to attract their attention:
- When a new device is bought/brought home
- When a child gets their first mobile phone (usually around age 11)
- When something goes wrong / something has happened
- When a new app, platform or game is requested by a child.
At that point, parents either search online for information or ask the schools for help. It may be that the committee could use these insights in its report to call for:
- More information to be provided at the point of purchase
- More protection for minors
- Easily available and effect routes of redress
- Easily available information on how to prevent data leakage
However, getting parental attention on these issues is hard, expensive and requires dedicated sustained effort. We suspect driving awareness of data collection amongst the public will be equally if not more challenging and therefore suggest that in tandem with any public awareness campaign, companies are challenged to do more voluntarily, with further regulation a realistic prospect for non-compliance.