We waived our privacy the second we unwrapped that shiny new iPhone and clicked agree on the Terms & Conditions we did not read. While we know everything we do online leaves a breadcrumb trail--what websites we visit, what products we buy, what we post on social media--very few of us know just how much information there is in our digital footprint.
What is a digital footprint?
A digital footprint is the trail of personal information you leave behind when you use an online service including messages, link clicks, website searches, comments on social media, ads clicked, and everything in-between. For our kids, it also includes the digitization of every school, health, immunization, and other personal records.
Our digital footprints are filled with personal information (Google yourself, we dare you) that advertisers, employers, college admissions, and even scammers can access.
Why does it matter?
A study in 2010 showed in the U.S., more than 90% of 2-year-olds and 80% of infants already had an online presence. Of the 92% of children with an online presence, 1/3 are posted about on social media the day of their birth and almost half of these posts include their first name. Our kids are the first generation who will have their entire lives documented online, largely by their own family members.
Children are the most vulnerable
The biggest concern is the digitalization and storage of children’s learning data like their learning trajectories, thinking characteristics, engagement scores, response times, pages read, and videos viewed. With all of this information stored, advertisers can create behaviorally targeted profiles that exploit young children who are unable to differentiate between fiction and reality. It’s hard to compete with the algorithms as a fully formed adult, which means our kids aren’t given a fighting chance.
The FTC is equally concerned
The Federal Trade Commission recently launched an investigation into the privacy and data collection practices of the major social media platforms and online marketplaces, specifically concerning children’s information. The Commissioners claim the industry model has shifted from supporting users’ activities to monetizing them, which is problematic when it comes to children’s information being used to build psychological profiles. These profiles predict their behavior, manipulate their experiences to generate ad sales, or promote specific content to shape their opinions--all without their knowledge, let alone consent.
How can you protect your child’s personal information?
A digital footprint isn’t necessarily bad or good--it’s inevitable and it’s your decision of how proactive you want to be. If you’re interested in minimizing your child’s digital footprint, here are a few tips we’ve taken:
- Know who has access to your child’s information: Check what games, websites, and apps are collecting your child’s personal information and exactly what information they are collecting. This goes beyond just what they have on their tablet. Do they use an app or website for school? Does your daycare use an app to share photos and updates of your child? As a parent, you have a right to limit the information that online services collect about your child under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). If you’re uncomfortable with the collection practices that are being used, speak up.
- Only download the apps you need: If they must sign up for an account, have them use your Apple or Google account to download and sign up for apps instead of creating their own designated account. A recent study found that of 400 Android apps, ¾ contained trackers that collected user behavior and location without the user being aware, including apps made for children. One example of this was Talking Angela, an app where children play with an animated cat, which contained 16 trackers 🚩
- Read the Privacy Policies: We know, it’s…a lot, but online services are legally obligated to tell you what personal information they collect from your child, how they use it, if they sell your child’s information to advertisers, and how you can go about deleting that information from their databases.
- Use products and services that are COPPA Certified: If an online service is COPPA Certified (like our kids smartwatches!), they’ve gone through extensive testing and auditing by an FTC-approved Safe Harbor Program. Being COPPA Certified allows you to have peace of mind knowing your child’s information is being handled properly.
- Teach your kids about their digital footprint: Explain to your child the importance of limiting what personal information they are giving out online. Teach them that just because you delete something, doesn’t mean it’s gone. One of the least understood risks of our digital footprint is the future consequences for our kids. With “dataveillance” firms on the rise, they collect enough data from both children’s and parents’ digital footprints to create full academic, economic, and personality profiles which are sold to potential employers, advertisers, and college admission offices, impacting the outcome of our children’s futures.
The best part is you can easily protect your child’s online footprint by taking small steps to safeguard their information. What do you want to hear about next? DM us your suggestions @myticktalk!