Children's rights to data privacy has not yet to be consciously included in our approach to managing online risks. This project wanted to explore how families in New Zealand understand privacy. We conducted in-depth interviews with parents and teenagers to explore how they conceptualise and manage privacy today. We were particularly interested in exploring how they think about personal information in the digital environment, and specifically commercial use of their personal information. The upshot is - we need to raise awareness not only among children and teenagers, but among parents about what personal data is in the digital context and how commercial data practices can generate harms.
What do parents and teenagers understand about personal information in the online digital world? What are their thoughts about commercial data practices? Initial insights from the 'Children's Rights to Data Privacy' project research raises some unexpected issues for policymakers, educators, parents and teenagers.
The privacy of individuals has become a global issue in the wake of events such as Cambridge Analytica and whistle blower Edward Snowden, but even more so as reports of data breaches, hidden data collection practices, and unethical practices by companies, institutions and governments come to light in the media.
Privacy advocates and researchers have expressed concerns about the surveillance by governments, institutions and companies becoming the norm, and that our personal data is used by these organisations in ways that determine our opportunities and choices, affecting our life outcomes. Data about us is increasingly collected through surveillance by public institutions and companies using biometrics, cameras, social media communications and interactions, our web browsing, purchases, downloads, participation in online surveys, competitions, and communications, our personal networks, and smart - often wearable or in home devices. Rapid integration of smart technologies, storage and processing capacities, algorithms and data analytics has meant that enormous amounts of personal data are collected, aggregated, analysed and used to generate personal dossiers of which we are unaware. Most of this without our knowledge or our 'informed' consent. It is clear that commercial data processing generates inequalities through denying people access to the same opportunities, offers and information.
Regulatory advances such as the EU Global Data Protection Act (GDPR) (May 2018), COPPA, or California Consumer Privacy Act (January 2020) have made some headway into addressing the issue of the privacy and individual control of personal data in the digital era. Although privacy advocates express concern over such events, individuals are less likely to understand how their personal information and privacy is at risk in the digital environment. However, we all have a role in protecting our personal data as well.
Researchers have determined that "vast amounts of data are being collected from children, with or without consent, with or without knowledge that children are even using the services and, further, with or without adequate security provision, and without parental awareness of many of these issues (Livingstone and Yoo, 2018, January 18)." One study by SuperAwesome in December 2018 discovered that children under 13 are exposed to anywhere between 1 and 2 million trackers per year, and that these are collecting some 5 million data points: such as their "location, websites visited, device identifiers etc." and that this increases to around 12 million per year for 12 year olds as they spend more time online. Online advertisers don't discriminate between adults and children and parents are often unaware of how advertisers reach children.
Through qualitative interviews with 30 parents and teenagers in Auckland, New Zealand, Social Research NZ explored: how teenagers and parents conceptualise privacy online; how they define personal information in the digital context; what risks they associate with sharing data with others, institutions and companies; what privacy-protection strategies, if any, do teenagers and parents use to minimise the collection of their personal data. It sought to how understand parents and children conceptualise and value privacy in the digital context, and test the assumption that parents and teenagers (12-16) manage personal data privacy in relation to current commercial data practices online.
Children's rights to privacy in the digital era
Power in Numbers