How data sharing affects a child's future

Today, more than ever, our data is extensively shared – both willingly and unwillingly – through our electronic devices, mobile phones, downloaded applications, gadgets, smartwatches, games, and so on. Our data is collected, from known and unknown sources, all around us.

2019-12-17 Greek Safer Internet Centre

Children's first digital footprint is often formed even before they are born, such as ultrasound photos shared by parents on social media and file-sharing platforms. The exposure of children's personal information becomes significant when they, themselves, start using social media platforms.

Technological advances allow us to collect an increasing amount of data on children, through their using their favourite electronic devices, smart toys and other gadgets, and this happens through:

  • installed sensors, microphones and cameras which have become tiny and affordable;
  • the increasing amount of information which is available in digital and networked form;
  • mobile connectivity, which has become ubiquitous, strong and widespread in an ever-decreasing age.

In addition to the above, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and natural language processing have rendered the processing and analysis of large amounts of unstructured data feasible, in turn making the exploitation of the collected data an easy and affordable task.

The picture below shows the different ways in which a child's own personal data can be collected at home or outside.

Infographic on ways in which children's data is collected online

But who can actually predict the ways in which this massive disclosure of personal information will affect a child's future personal life? For example, if a child's personal health information is publicly exposed, could it affect their ability to get private insurance in the future? Could personal photos uploaded online affect their future employment opportunities?

Unfortunately, the long-term consequences still remain unknown and extensive research will be required in order to get a better idea of how a child's future will be affected by such large scale exposure of personal information.

A lot of work remains to be performed to unveil the long-term consequences of such massive personal information exposure.

Top safety tips

  • Install strong passwords on all smart toys, gadgets and electronic devices used by your child.
  • Install antivirus and anti-malware on all devices. Be sure to set it up properly, update it regularly, and follow the software recommendations.
  • Install parental control apps. Since most smart games have to be combined with tablets and smartphones, you need to set up your device to make sure it's safe for your children. In mobile and network connections, set parental controls to "filter out inappropriate content", limit the types of information that children can share, and set time limits for your child's online activities.
  • Turn off location services on any application or other electronic device that is not needed.
  • Mute the microphone and block webcams. Some sensitive information can be obtained via the the microphone or the camera. You can protect your privacy by disabling audio and video features in applications that do not require them to work.
  • Disable in-app purchases. Some smart games offer the ability to purchase various in-app items. If you do not turn off purchases, your child may be able to make purchases without your permission, which may cost you large amounts of money.

Find out more information about the work of the Greek Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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