Children have simply been disregarded. In online services, their role is mainly to generate data for the targeting of services. The age limit of 13 that many services set does not provide adequate protection for children because children themselves frequently break that rule.
We need to recognise that a 13-year-old has, at best, a limited understanding of the rules of the platform economy and data collection.
In the case of a toddler, a parent usually controls their internet use by sitting nearby and adjusting the settings of devices and apps. However, as the child grows older, watching over their shoulder and restricting their internet use becomes unfeasible. Suddenly, the child is at the mercy of the giants of the data economy, enthralled by a wide array of attractive apps.
Consumers still have the power to influence
If enough people start to insist on fairer rules for service use, even large corporations may finally start to listen to the needs of children and the demands of adults. Consumers still wield at least some influence by making choices. Non-governmental organisations, such as UNICEF, Plan and MyData, engage in important work in their respective fields to make operating models healthier. The European Commission is also taking action and seeking solutions through regulatory measures. The rest of us must support these efforts through our own actions and, as parents, we must ensure that our children have the necessary skills and competencies to be responsible digital service users. Your own skills are a good place to start.
Sitra’s digiprofile test helps parents and young people assess their own level of competence.
Five recommendations for parents and children
- Discuss what privacy means and how it can be protected.
- Also discuss some clear examples – such as why you should not leave an app constantly running in the background. It makes sense to go to the trouble of signing in when you actually need an app. Apps do not need to know the location of the child at all times.
- For messaging between family members, use alternative tools that respect privacy. Examples of instant messaging apps include Signal and Telegram, which are easy to use alongside Snapchat and WhatsApp if you do not want to stop using those apps because your friends and relatives use them.
- Revisit the issue occasionally, take an interest and be active in giving advice and support to your children. With older children, it may be a good idea to question their views – or then get some good advice yourself.
Next, we suggest that you put on your headphones and listen to an interview with our specialist Riitta Vänskä on the Plan International Finland podcast (in Finnish) on the data economy and children.