What should I be aware of when managing my child’s data online?

If your family is using more platforms to stay connected and manage children’s education, you may have questions around data and privacy on these sites. See expert advice on what you need to know.

John Carr

Online Safety Expert
Expert Website

There are two kinds of risks associated with children’s data on the internet. One is commercial. The other is connected with possible threats to a child’s physical safety and well-being.

Taking them in turn, we all know the expression “Data is the new oil”. The internet has become a central part of the way the world now works. More and more goods and services are being sold or provided online and the companies that sell or provide them want to place their advertisements in front of potential customers. To do this they need information, data, about the kind of tastes people have, what kind of things they are interested in. They can either buy or acquire such data from data brokers or they will advertise on online platforms such as Facebook or Instagram who have already pretty much done the sifting, sorting, and categorizing for them.

In relation to a child’s physical safety, bullies or paedophiles will often go to chat areas linked with online games, or other interactive spaces on the web looking out for someone who is perhaps sharing too much information about themselves, perhaps sending out a signal that they are lonely or bored, or both. In lockdown, there is a great fear that this has been on the increase.

Are there steps I can take to protect my children from digital data collection?

Taking them in reverse order this time, the first recommendation is the most obvious and often also the hardest. Sit down and talk to your children about the importance of not putting too much “out there”, particularly in environments where they will not and cannot know everyone who might be involved in a game.

They need to be particularly careful about letting slip information about where they live, what school they go to, telephone numbers, social media handles, that kind of thing. Maybe even harder in lockdown if you also have to work or look after more than one child at home, try to make sure the possibility of getting bored is minimised. There are bits of software you can load on to your children’s devices that can help monitor what they are up to without necessarily allowing you to “spy” on everything – they can send you a text alert so you can check it out – and they won’t allow telephone numbers or email addresses to appear on screen.

On the commercial aspect, there are things called ad-blockers and you can set your web browser to “do not track” or use a browser that doesn’t collect that kind of data anyway. Some of the programmes mentioned above will also block all financial transactions or send you a text alert so once again you can check it out before deciding whether or not to let it proceed. Who said being a parent was easy?

Dr Elizabeth Milovidov, JD

Law Professor and Digital Parenting Expert
Expert Website

If I open an account on an online platform how do sites typically use mine or my child’s data? 

Platforms will typically collect data about their users in order to learn more about you and your online preferences.  The data can be used to help the platform improve its services as well as help the platform finetune advertisements for you.

The types of data that a website may collect can include your location, what type of device you are using, and cookies (small files that keep records of your site settings).  Cookies can be particularly interesting (or problematic) because they can also tell your likes and dislikes and who you’ve been talking to.

Are there steps I can take to protect my children from digital data collection?

Many children may have an online presence from their birth or even earlier as parents share pre-natal scans and records on social media.  Parents are responsible for much of the data that is out there regarding their children and parents need to act as responsible digital guardians of their children’s reputation and footprint. In order to protect your child from digital data collection, parents need to understand the fundamentals of online privacy.

  • Turn off location tracking.
  • Adjust your privacy settings to maximum privacy.
  • Review online privacy policies of online platforms.
  • Teach your children to not blindly “click and accept” a platform’s terms in order to play or get online.
  • Use the correct age and location on the accounts for your children because different rules may apply for adults and children and there may be different rules in different European countries.
  • Remind your children of the importance of keeping personal information private.

Where I can find more resources on data protection and privacy?

As a general rule, every social media and gaming platform will contain terms and conditions for using the platform.  That legal language will highlight how your data is used and protected and what degree of privacy you can expect from using the platform.

If there is something that you are unfamiliar with or uncertain about, you should reach out to customer service or the contact information provided for that purpose.  The majority of technology companies are trying to improve the user experience and user safety, so they will be pleased to assist you.

ICO publishes Code of Practice to protect children’s privacy online in January 2020 and the code sets out the standards expected of those responsible for designing, developing or providing online services like apps, connected toys, social media platforms, online games, educational websites and streaming services. It covers services likely to be accessed by children and which process their data.

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