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New report on extent of children’s data collected online

November 8th 2018

The Children's Commissioner for England has issued a new report calling for a statutory duty of care towards online users.

For information and advice on safeguarding children, click here.

Who Knows What About Me says that vast amounts of personal data are being collected about children from or even pre-birth, potentially impacting their future. The data is being collected via their parents’ and their own social media activity, public services and, increasingly, internet-connected toys. Personal information is even needed for many apps to help with schoolwork.

Children aged 11 - 16 post to social media on average 26 times a day, equating to up to 70,000 posts by the time they turn 18, is one of the report’s findings that many will find surprising.

The report calls for greater transparency about the data being collected and how it is being used.

Author Simone Vibert said: "More and more information is collected about all of us as we navigate today's digital world. But the difference for children is that their data footprints extend from birth, documenting their earliest experiences both good and bad.

"We think there should be a statutory duty of care governing relationships between social media companies and their users so we are working with lawyers to draft up what this would look like."

The concern is that children face an increased risk of falling victim to financial fraud and identity theft in the future, by cybercriminals piecing together information which they or their parents have posted online. It could also impact on their ability to obtain credit or insurance, or even gain entry to university or find the employment of their choice.

Other key recommendations include:

   - Manufacturers of internet-connected toys and online services designed for children and young people should clearly state on packaging or elsewhere if their products capture user data and, if so, how it will be used

   - Schools should begin teaching about the safe and responsible use of social media and how their data is collected

   - The Government should consider strengthening data protection legislation.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said: “Children are often shocked to learn just how information and data is collected about them as they grow up, from the information stored by new gadgets like Alexa to data held by their schools.

“We need to make sure that they can make informed choices about the data they are giving away and that their parents know who knows what about their kids. The Government must urgently refine data protection legislation if GDPR does not prove up to the job.”

Ms Longfield continued: “This is an issue that will only grow as technology continues to advance and it is vital that protections are put in place by the Government so that any data collected about children is done transparently and is used only for positive reasons.”