Recently the children’s commissioner for England is calling tech companies and toy-makers to be more transparent about the data they are collecting on children.
According to the report children are being ‘datafied’ from birth and we do not know consequences of it.
How are children ‘datafied’ :
1.Toys connected to the internet
Internet-connected toys are appealing for parents and children. Parents can track what kids are doing with an app . They also come with flashy gadgets like a machine learning teddy bear, not just a normal teddy bear.
But Internet-connected toys are heaven for hackers. Many of the toys contain microphone, camera, sensors, data storage components, and location tracking- making children’s privacy and safety at risk.
Not only do some of this toys collect your child’s information but they also enable strangers to communicate with your child. For instance, Cloudpets a stuffed animal used for recording messages, songs and stories became vulnerable to hackers. Kids started receiving audio messages from strangers. Recordings were also stored in a server that had no protection. Anyone can access that information and hackers can also make the toy say whatever they wanted.
Being connected to the internet poses plenty of security problems- but these gadgets are targeted towards children. Before buying a smart toy for your child , think whether the benefits outweighs the risks. Here are 4 things to consider before buying a smart toy for your children.
The report by the children’s commissioner for England does not include sharenting in its list of how children are being ‘datafied’. But I would add this into the list.
- Report suggested that by the age of 13, children would have 1,000 pictures of themselves on the internet.
- 80% of children are said to have an online presence by the age of two.
- Average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child online before their fifth birthday.
Consequences of sharenting:
- Sharenting can result in the identification of a child’s home, childcare location. Your child’s private information are being disclosed on social media platforms which can pose a risk to your child.
- Parents will be creating their child’s digital identity from birth. By the time your child is 16 years old there will be enough data to ‘profile’ your child.
- Your child’s background, like or dislikes, holiday destinations, tantrums and more can be used by future employers or colleges to decide if their upbringing are good fit for the organisation.
Other ways your child is being ‘datafied’:
- The data gathered when children use the internet. The way your child post on the internet can even be used by healthcare providers to assess their mental health. It can also be used by insurance companies when deciding on their charges.
- Tracking devices and apps used by parents to keep tabs on their children. For instance, Fitbit for kids
- The biometric data held by public bodies such as schools and the NHS
(Source : BBC News)
How to prevent your children from being ‘datafied’:
- When buying smart toys for your children ensure that any camera or microphone is not connected to the internet.
- Switch off the bluetooth when toy is not being used.
- Do not give your child’s information when filling in any of the apps attached with the toy
- Stop sharing too much information about your child on the internet. When sharing photos online make sure your profile is set to be private. Even this won’t guarantee their safety.
- Make sure photos that are shared will not embarrass your child in the future.
While advancement in technology have created fun and ‘educational’ toys think about all the potential vulnerabilities in the toy.
Toy manufacturers are focused on creating toys and may not be investing too much in safeguarding their buyer’s information. It is our role as parents to safeguard our children’s identity.
Also, avoid sharing too much information about children online. It is still unclear how social media companies are collecting and using our data. The risks are too high.
Here are other tips to you keep children safe in the digital age :
Instagram : 3 Instagram safety tips for parents
Google : Stop Google from tracking you and your kids every movement
Calculator app : Secret calculator app kids use to hide photos, videos and sexting messages
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