November 8, 2018 / 3:05 PM / 6 days ago

British official urges more protection for children 'datafied from birth'

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British children are having vast quantities of personal data collected from birth, according to a report released on Thursday that calls for more transparency and greater legal protection.

From proud parents sharing a photo of their newborn baby online to internet-based toys, smart speakers and location tracking gadgets, children’s every move is being tracked, the Children’s Commissioner for England warned in the report.

“We’re all datafied but the difference for children is ... they’re datafied from birth,” the report’s author Simone Vibert, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I think we should be concerned because we don’t know what the consequences of all this information about children will be in the future.”

Vibert said parents should stop and think before sharing information online about their children, whose online data footprints could one day put them at greater risk of identity theft or limit their job and university prospects.

Last year, a popular children’s toy, CloudPets, was found to have breached data laws after gathering and storing online about two million personal messages shared between children and their family members.

About 79 percent of five to seven year olds in Britain go online every week, mostly using a tablet, this jumps to 99 percent of 12 to 15 years olds, according to a 2017 report by Britain’s communications regulator, Ofcom.

Children aged 11 to 16 post on social media on average 26 times a day, which means by the age of 18 they are likely to have posted 70,000 times, the report found.

It said that while personal information in the wrong hands could pose an immediate threat to children’s safety, there is less understanding of how personal data gathered in childhood shape people’s prospects in the long term.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield called on the government to urgently refine existing data protection legislation.

The report said her office would draft a law outlining the statutory duty of care governing the relationship between social media companies and their audiences.

It also urged companies to be more transparent about their collection and use of children’s data and recommended safeguards including improved education in schools on social media use.

Asked to respond, the government said it was “determined to make Britain the safest place to be online”.

“Parents need to have confidence their children are protected,” a spokeswoman for Britain’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Reporting by Adela Suliman; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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