The Children’s Commissioner for England is calling on toy manufacturers and tech giants to be more transparent about the data they are collecting on our children.
A new report called ‘Who knows what about me?’ reveals how more information is collected and shared about children than ever before. Their personal data – their interests and their habits – is collected when the watch a screen, visit a website, or use apps, in addition to the information that is captured by public services.
The report points out that children and parents are unaware of much of the information that is being gathered, and the ways in which it could be used to shape their lives both now and in adulthood.
The report highlights how a child’s parents will have posted on average 1,300 photos and videos of them to social media children by the time they’re 13 years old.
By age 11-16, children post on social media on average 26 times a day, which means by the age of 18 they are likely to have posted 70,000 times.
Many very young children are also using ”internet-connected toys” which gather personal information and messages. It was found that in 2017, 2 million CloudPets voice messages shared between children and their family members were found being stored without protection online.
Other places where children’s data is being collected includes smart speakers, connected toys and connected baby cameras, tracking watches, school databases, classroom apps, travel passes, and medical records such as the Personal Child Health Record and GP records.
Benefits and risks of children’s data being collected
The report also outlines some of the benefits and risks of children’s data being collected.
For example, data can be used to drive innovation, personalise services and improve consumer experiences and public services.
However, the report warns that with so much data being collected about today’s children, they will be at an increased risk of identity theft and fraud as they grow up. It could also be used to make significant decisions about their future, such as whether they are offered a job, insurance or credit.
Worryingly, children are sharing more of their information without asking why it is needed or what it will be used for.
The Children’s Commissioner’s Office makes a number of recommendations to policy-makers including:
- Companies producing apps, toys and other products aimed at children should be more transparent about any trackers capturing information about children. In particular, any toy collects any video or audio. They say this should be explained to children in language they can understand.
- Schools should teach children about how their data is collected and used and what they can do to take control of their data footprint. These lessons should cover information shared online, at home and outside the home.
- There should be a strict duty of care between social media companies and the children and parents they are targetting.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said:
“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. We need to make sure that they can make informed choices about the data they are giving away and that their parents know who knows what about their kids.“
“I also want to see all manufacturers and the big internet companies be transparent about how their devices are capturing information about children, toy manufacturers clearly labelling their packaging if they are capturing children’s audio or video and a statutory duty of care between the social media giants and their younger users.”