Children’s Online Privacy

A simple toy can brighten up a child’s life. They hold onto it. They treasure it. It goes with them everywhere.
Now give that toy a camera. 
It follows them.
It watches them. 
It records everything they do. 
Child-focused industries have been going behind our back, watching young children and collecting information on those who cannot defend themselves. For years, companies have collected data on citizens to create a data profile for financial gain. Recently, they’ve started pushing the limits of what is acceptable by collecting, analyzing, sharing, and using the data of minors.
Companies that families trust are violating their privacy and that of their young children. Even though there are laws in place to keep children safe against this, technology develops so rapidly that it can be difficult for the laws to keep pace. Therefore, there’s an ever growing need to protect our children when they’re online.

“Children get bored at toys easily, no matter how fancy they are. But AI is living, and ever changing.”

- James Yin, President of Roobo

Real Examples of Violations

These accusations aren’t baseless. There have been many lawsuits over the years that claim well known companies knowingly and regularly violate children’s privacy, exploiting children for profit. The examples that follow are merely a sampling of what’s occurred to the detriment of our children.
 
  • VTech, an electronic toy creator, was brought to court in 2018, after having violated several children’s privacy laws, including COPPA and Federal Trade Commission guidelines. Their app, ”Kid Connect”, spread across all of their electronic devices, harvests information from their young users without the consent or knowledge of their guardians. They also took shortcuts with their security measures, leaving this data vulnerable. They settled, paying out only $650,000.
 
  • In Philadelphia, the Lower Merion School District came under fire when they were caught using the webcams on the laptops they gave to their students. They used the cameras to spy on students, monitoring what they were doing online and away from school. They took screengrabs and captured photos of the students while they were in the supposed privacy of their own bedroom. This invasion of privacy cost the school around $610 thousand dollars in lawsuit payouts.

COPPA

In the US, children’s online privacy is supposed to be covered by laws such as COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). COPPA focuses on operators of commercial websites, mobile apps, and other online services whose programs collect, use, and/or disclose personal information of their users under the age of 13. COPPA defines privacy policy requirements, data collection parameters, and the process of acquiring verifiable parental consent. For example, companies must provide a clear description of how the data is collected and how its used. They must also contact the parents for consent to conduct their business.
As much as these guidelines help, it’s not enough. They haven’t stopped companies from collecting data through unsavory means. Even after its creation, major companies have found different ways to circumvent this and other laws.
Things need to change.
Loopholes need to be closed.
Now, more than ever, our children need to be protected when they connect to the internet.

Taking Action

>>Be aware of what children are involved with online. Things can easily be missed when under the guise of being child-oriented. Not everything is as safe as it seems, and should be verified if possible.
 
>>Be aware of your rights and your children’s rights when it comes to data collection. This will help you better understand what’s going on when you and your loved ones sign on.
 
>>Ask your children’s school what they're doing to protect children’s data. This is especially important as more and more schools become internet-dependent.
 
>>Get involved with organizations that address online privacy and digital ethics. Simply sharing trusted content on privacy gets the information circulated and helps people remain educated.
A quick internet search can reveal a few of these organizations. (We are also one of those orgs! We’d love to get more people educated on these important issues.). Getting involved in organizations, even in little ways, will help expedite change.

 

Further Reading