While adults are talking about their privacy downstairs, children are playing upstairs with 'toys' that do not yet take privacy very seriously. It has been a tough month in the land of children’s privacy. In addition to various violations, a new, second privacy paradox is emerging.
YouTube has decided to switch off comments on hundreds of millions of videos in which children appear. It turns out that a network of paedophiles was passing on information to each other in the comments under the YouTube videos in which children appear. With the help of timestamps they referred to specific moments in these videos in which children unintentionally adopt an inappropriate pose.
The app TikTok (also known as Musical.ly: an app that allows users to film themselves while playbacking songs) has been fined a record 5.7 million dollars by the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The reason: TikTok illegally collected data from children and did not ask parents for permission if a child under thirteen wanted to create an account. The latter is mandatory under U.S. law (Child Online Privacy Protection Act). In the Netherlands this is mandatory up to the age of 16.
The requirement for parental consent does not appear to be entirely superfluous in this case. Compilations of clips uploaded on TikTok and Musical.ly are frequently published on YouTube. One popular example is the 'Fuckboy music.ly compilation', in which barely dressed children sing a song or dance erotically. See also the painful, but humorous video on this subject: ‘What kids really do on Musical.ly’.
Last month, Professor Peter Nikken argued that we shouldn't panic too much about apps like TikTok. I fully agree with him on that. It is true that these current developments may provoke a kind of moral, social panic. Professor Simone van der Hof calls this intense public, political, and academic response to the emergence or use of media or technologies ‘technopanic’ (see book). This technopanic often becomes more severe as soon as children are involved. However, this panic is rarely rational and I consider imposing user bans on children to be rarely effective.
On the other hand, following these reports and the panic that this (potentially) causes, another interesting phenomenon does arise. We are always concerned only after major breaches of children's privacy, while we hardly ever consider their privacy in advance. Although there has been a reference to the ‘privacy paradox’ for some time, in my view this indicates the existence of a second privacy paradox.
The first privacy paradox implies that while we highly value our privacy, we seemingly put it aside as soon as a certain technology can make our lives easier or more pleasant. The second privacy paradox is an extension of the first paradox, but consists of two even greater extremes: we consider the privacy of children to be much more important than the privacy of adults, but we pay much less attention to the privacy of children.
I also noticed that this is the case after reading the complaint-report 2018 of the Dutch Data Protection Authority, the privacy watchdog in the Netherlands. This report shows that only 1% of the almost 10,000 (privacy) complaints in the Netherlands relate to the personal data of children. Especially when you bear in mind that more than a third of all internet users consists of children and that privacy legislation is stricter when it comes to children, this is very peculiar.
Technology is playing an increasingly important role in children's lives, but although we talk massively about our privacy, we often forget to talk specifically about children's privacy. We discuss Facebook and the presumable manipulation of presidential elections, but we forget to mention that websites aimed at (young) children also trade in their data in order to show them targeted ads. We talk about smart assistants which may overhear our conversations in the house, but we forget to mention that connected toys can also do this when the child talks to it. Just Google 'my friend Cayla' and it soon becomes clear what the conversations should also be about.
In short: the land of children’s privacy doesn't have to be so paradoxical at all. However, the paradox will only disappear the moment we talk about children's privacy as much as we worry about it afterwards.