Children are "given from birth"

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England's commissioner for England asks the Internet giants and toy makers to be more transparent about the data they collect about children.

Today's children are the first to be "given" by birth and little has been thought about the consequences, says a report for her.

Who knows what concerns me? calls for a statutory duty of care between social media giants and their younger users.

And urges the government to consider reinforcing data protection laws.

"Canary in my"

The report also highlights how young children are now using toys connected to the Internet.

They collect messages and personal information that may be insecure and open to hacker attacks, he says.

The report cites research conducted by Sonia Livingstone, who describes children as "canary in the coal mine for a larger society" – the first to encounter new technologies and risks before many adults are aware of it.

He says:

  • children should be educated in schools about how their data are collected and for what purpose
  • where a toy collects video or audio generated by a child, this should be made explicit in a prominent part of the package or related accompanying information
  • using the language that children understand, companies should clearly explain in their terms and conditions what data are collected and how they will be used

The report estimates:

  • between 11 and 16 years old, children post on social media 26 times a day, on average
  • when they reach adulthood, they are likely to have posted 70,000 times
  • At the age of 13, a child's parents will have posted an average of 1,300 photos and videos of them on social media

There is also:

  • data collected when children use the internet
  • tracking devices and apps used by parents to monitor their offspring
  • biometric data held by public bodies such as schools and the national health service

The report warns that there may be risks to young people in whom profiling Internet usage is used in areas of life where it may have more profound consequences, such as the judicial system or the educational system.

A worrying scenario is whether a health insurance company used the information published by a child on social media on their mental health as part of their decision on the opportunity to issue a policy or how much to charge.

Technology develops

Anne Longfield, England Childhood Commissioner, said: "We need to stop and reflect on what this means for the lives of children and how it might impact on their future adult lives.

"We simply do not know what the consequences of all this information on our children will be.

"Companies that make apps, toys and other products used by children should stop filling them with trackers and insert terms and conditions into a language that children understand.

"And crucially, the government must monitor the situation and fine-tune data protection legislation, if necessary, so that children are genuinely protected – especially with the development of technology".

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