Kids need privacy too!

Thursday, 03 Dec 2020


How do we inform and educate our kids better about the use of media platforms and how do we protect their privacy better than we do? For many, news becoming more ‘custom made’ – packaged in easy to digest form that corresponds to a way of thinking. 

If these news sources are Facebook or Google we can say with confidence that data analytics will help to deliver similar news items to us and deprive us of the variations and perspectives that are the life blood of a democracy. In essence, we start living in the ‘silo’ or the ‘bubble’ -  self-fulfilling and self-propagating. Our profiles are mined over time to refine the process. It starts when kids are young. 

Today, if you are a white supremacist or a climate change denier, you can be ‘fed’ (and you may have been fed for some time) all the propaganda needed to sustain your position and this will be untainted. Monochrome. In fact, more than likely, your position will be fuelled further through the same processes that are undermining ‘truth’. Some may pretend that we have ‘alternative facts’ but most see this for what it is.

Relinquishing privacy is a natural by-product and it begins when kids are young. The information gathered and extracted from young people is done with little regard to privacy.  

Carissa Veliz is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities at the University of Oxford. In her recent article Veliz posits: ‘imagine having a master key for your life. A key or password that gives access to the front door to your home, your bedroom, your diary, your computer, your phone, your car, your safe deposit, your health records. Would you go around making copies of that key and giving them out to strangers? Probably not the wisest idea – it would be only a matter of time before someone abused it, right? So why are you willing to give up your personal data to pretty much anyone who asks for it?’

Veliz describes two aspects of power (one being brute force) but the other being more pervious as it corrupts the mind. It influences the way we think and act. What’s this got to do with kids you may ask? I wonder how many of your children are already on FB and use Google extensively. What data is being gathered about them right now that may affect them in their future? 
Facebook does not technically sell your data, for instance. Nor does Google. They sell the power to influence you. They sell the power to show you ads, and the power to predict your behaviour. Google and 

Facebook are not really in the business of data – they are in the business of power. Even more than monetary gain, personal data bestows power on those who collect and analyse it, and that is what makes it so coveted. (Veliz)

The link between privacy and power is widely understood. Less widely understood is why people relinquish it so unconsciously. This problem is only going to deteriorate further unless there is a better understanding of its insidiousness.

And our kids are using the tools of technology more and more and seem more and more oblivious to what’s going on behind the screen. Google’s search engine, for example, is as good as it is partly because its algorithm has much more data to learn from than any of its competitors. In addition to keeping the company safe from competitors and allowing it to train its algorithm better, our data also allows tech companies to predict and influence our behaviour. With the amount of data it has access to, Google can know what keeps you up at night, what you desire the most, what you are planning to do next. It then whispers this information to other busybodies who want to target you for ads. (Veliz)

Facebook uses of different types of tracking software to follow consumers’ activities on millions of non-Facebook sites all over the web.

Facebook can learn almost anything about you by using artificial intelligence to analyze your behaviour. That knowledge turns out to be perfect both for advertising and propaganda. Will Facebook ever prevent itself from learning people’s political views, or other sensitive facts about them? Natasha Singer NY Times 2018

In the 2018 ‘Children’s data and privacy online Growing up in a digital age’ Livingstone, Stoilova & Nandagiri capture the full complexity of children’s privacy online, by distinguishing among:
  • interpersonal privacy (how a child’s ‘data self’ is created, accessed and multiplied via a child’s online social connections);
  •  institutional privacy (how public agencies like government, educational and health institutions gather and handle data about children); and 
  • commercial privacy (how children’s personal data is harvested and used for business and marketing purposes).
The available evidence suggests that commercial privacy is the area where children are least able to comprehend and manage on their own.

The authors suggest: Privacy is vital for child development – key privacy-related media literacy skills are closely associated with a range of child developmental areas. While children develop their privacy-related awareness, literacy and needs as they grow older, even the oldest children struggle to comprehend the full complexity of internet data flows and some aspects of data commercialisation. The child development evidence related to privacy is insufficient but it undoubtedly points to the need for a tailored approach which acknowledges developments and individual differences amongst children.

There are so many considerations when we consider privacy and the implications behind losing privacy. Children are being unknowingly manipulated by advertisers and by the sheer physics of how it is being determined what they want to hear. I don’t have an answer to this. Perhaps stronger legislation would be a good starting point as the issue bamboozles most parents.     

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