This is happening on some of the most popular kids' apps including Roblox, Pokemon Go and Facebook Messenger. TikTok, one of the world's biggest kid apps has once again hit the headlines recently after it admitted its staff in China are able to access Australian users' private data.
New research released by Pixalate presents this shocking state of play of the lack of care for children. A knee-jerk reaction is to say kids shouldn't be using technology. They should be outside playing instead. Balance is of course important.
But another knee-jerk reaction is why is this still happening in 2022? Our children have been using the internet for years. There are 2.2 billion children worldwide and we are now at the stage where one in three use the internet. That means the data of over 700 million children is taken by commercial companies for their own gain every day. We have no control over that data, we will never know what data they have, who has it, what they will do with it, and we can never get it back. This takes stranger danger to a whole new level.
Our digital lives get more complicated every day. The good old days of simply using our clam phone to call or text someone are gone. The harms that technology throws our way are different; they are multi-layered, often not obvious and they emerge slowly, laying low and eating away at us until we feel the sting. That means we need new knowledge and skills to ensure that we manage the challenges of digital technology so that we can leverage the amazing skills and lifestyle it offers.
Let's begin by considering who is allowing this to happen. There are regulations: the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) aims to protect the data of children 12 years and younger. This is a USA based federal law. It has been in place since 2000 and amended in 2013, pre-smart phone era. This law is currently being reviewed - but nine years in tech terms is akin to nine light years in real time. Tech law lag hinders digital safety.
Loophole 1: Let's block this loophole by allowing apps to only collect the data they need. As users, let's decide and agree on what that is.
Loophole 2: We primarily buy or subscribe to apps from the App Store or Google Play. This places them in an extraordinary position of power over the collection of our children's data. It's clear that app developers can claim they don't know the age of their users. So let's take the loophole and block it. We can set up our phone or device with an age. The app will know that your child is eight-years-old because you set up the device that way, so when they come to collecting data about your child they will be blocked.
In a shorter term, it's imperative that parents read the privacy terms and conditions. If an app doesn't have them then don't allow your child to use the app. If they do have them but they are unreasonable or can potentially take what they want about your child, don't use them. Apps need us. Sometimes we forget that.
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