Children’s digital footprints are being formed earlier than ever, leaving them open to identify theft and fraud as they grow up because there is so much data on them readily available.
By the age of 13, a child’s parents will have posted on average 1,300 photos and videos of them online. Not only that, but as soon as kids are old enough, they carry on this trend – children aged 11 to 16 post on social media an average of 26 times a day, which means by the age of 18 they are likely to have posted 70,000 times.
A new report from the Children’s Commissioner for England calls this generation the first to be “datafied” from the start of their lives, despite the fact we’ve not yet considered the full implication of this as they become adults.
As a result, they’ve today called for the Government to urgently look into better ways of protecting the vast amounts of data being collected, and to teach kids in school about the risks of a life lived online.
Children’s data is routinely collected through social media updates on parents’ profiles, children’s smartphone and tablets, web-browsing and search engines, smart speakers, connected toys and connected baby cameras.
Data is also collected outside the home through location tracking watches, school databases, classroom apps, biometric data in schools, retail loyalty schemes, travel passes, and medical records such as the Personal Child Health Record and GP records. The report highlights that children are so accustomed to sharing data that they’re no longer questioning when they’re asked for it.
Last year, two million CloudPets voice messages shared between children and their family members were found being stored unprotected online. The report says in the same way as social media giants, these toy companies should have to be transparent about the ways they are collecting data and for what reason.
“Children are often shocked to learn just how information and data is collected about them as they grow up, from the information stored by new gadgets like Alexa to data held by their schools,” said Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England. “We need to make sure they can make informed choices about the data they are giving away and that their parents know who knows what about their kids.”
“Children are often shocked to learn just how information and data is collected about them."”
There are of course positives to data being collected: it can drive innovation, personalise services and improve consumer experiences and public services.
However sensitive information about a child could find its way into their data profile and used to make highly significant decisions about them, e.g. whether they are offered a job, insurance or credit. “Making mistakes and pushing boundaries is a normal part of childhood, but is less likely when children are being tracked so closely,” the report states.
Simone Vibert, senior policy analyst for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, and author of the report, believes that a child’s personal information should not be used in a way that leads to them facing disadvantage as an adult, yet that is a possibility we are now facing.
“We urgently need to introduce safeguards to minimise risks like these, while allowing data to be used positively to improve public services and customer experiences,” he added.