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Raising Kids with Privacy Awareness

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Learning to protect and nurture a child involves a myriad of factors including nutrition, ecology, education, media, and technology. Privacy is also a part of that picture.

Lately there has been enhanced attention on kids’ privacy, especially as they grow up in the shade of big data and the cloud computing which makes amassing and analyzing that information possible. While there are ways parents can protect kids’ privacy online, parents also need to understand how to teach their kids to adopt a sound privacy practice of their own.

In this article, we take a look at the current privacy landscape as it pertains specifically to kids, evaluate different attitudes kids have towards privacy and technology, and present some tips for how to model privacy practices and teach kids about privacy awareness.

Surveying the Privacy Landscape for Kids

Kids’ privacy is not something a parent can reliably outsource to companies creating websites and apps aimed at minors. The FTC’s Office of Technology Research and Investigation recently provided results from their second survey of how kids’ apps collect, share, and disclose privacy practices. The survey comes three years after the initial 2012 survey, and while the results show some improvement, there’s still a long way to go.

The FTC’s Findings

The FTC reviewed 364 kids’ apps in the Google Play or the Apple App store, evaluating disclosures about the apps’ privacy practices and interactive features, including links to social media. They analyzed the app’s data collection and sharing practices in action – after downloading and using them. While in 2012 only 20% of kids apps posted a privacy policy prior to app download, in 2015, 45% of the apps surveyed included a direct link to their privacy policy on their app store page. According to FTC staffers, “a significant portion of kids’ apps still leave parents in the dark about the data collected about their children.”

Results from the survey were part of the Global Privacy Enforcement Network  (GPEN) privacy sweep. GPEN connects privacy enforcement authorities to promote and support cross-border cooperation. This year’s GPEN sweep brought together 29 privacy enforcement authorities from around the world.

Privacy Laws for Kids

As parents grow aware of kids’ privacy issues, lawmakers are beginning to take note. One example is the new Delaware law focused on children’s’ privacy. The Delaware Online Privacy and Protection Act places restrictions on online marketing and advertising to Delaware children and restricts the online collection and disclosure of personal information from Delaware residents.

Much like it is defined in connection with the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), DOPPA defines the term “directed at children” to include Internet services “targeted or intended to reach an audience that is composed predominantly of children,” as determined by factors such as subject matter, visual or audit content, age of the models, and language or other characteristics, together with empirical evidence regarding audience composition. Unlike COPPA, however, which applies only to children under age 13, DOPPA applies all those under 18. Also, privacy policies must be published online, a requirement similar to the California Online Privacy Protection Act (CALOPPA).

Understanding Kids’ Attitudes Towards Technology & Privacy

Parents today first encountered online and mobile technology as adults. Our more mature understanding of technology creates within a kind of bias when it comes to our perception of how kids’ experience technology. This bias can prevent us from seeing how kids view technology and privacy.

A recent post on Paul Olyslager’s blog, “Digital Kids on Branding, Privacy and Technology Bias,” helps unmask some of the ways kids perceive technology and privacy differently than adults do. Perhaps most interesting is this section on the evolving nature of privacy with kids:

“Most pre-tweens and tweens look at their privacy as an open construct. They start by sharing as much as possible and as they grow older they start pulling in certain aspects of their privacy. This is in contrast to adults who keep their privacy in a walled garden model and release information as needed or to specified groups (family and friends vs. coworkers).”

The attitudes kids form about technology and privacy on their own will carry forward into the future and even shape the way companies design their products and regard privacy. If parents want to have a hand in this process, it’s important they bring their own understanding of privacy to the family.

Tips for Parents: How to Protect Kids’ Privacy

Kids rely on adults in their lives to help them understand norms and values. Parental silence about what is right and wrong, safe and unsafe leaves kids to look to other authority figures. Increasingly these authority figures take the form of brands and celebrities who have little investment in protecting kids’ personal information.

So how do you protect privacy with your kids in mind? Some good tips include:

Setting ground rules such as where and when kids can go online or use a mobile device.

Checking privacy settings on devices kids use to ensure they are optimized to protect how much information is shared by default.

Use tools like Disconnect Kids or Kidoz to limit tracking and moderate content.

Have discussions with them about privacy, just as you would about strangers, drugs, and public safety.

You may also elect to use technology which actively monitor kids online and reports on their behavior, but some parents find this too intrusive. Recently there’s been heated debate over kid-monitoring features of Windows 10, including whether or not the information the operating system gathers remains completely private.

For privacy to thrive in the future, we need to consider our role in educating kids to protect their personal information and modeling behaviors which show them privacy matters. What can you do to share your own privacy practice with a younger generation?

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