Protecting Children’s Data: Everything Parents Need to Know

Data protection has dropped into the news once more with the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) launching an investigation into Instagram’s handling of children’s data.

The social media site has been accused of mishandling the personal data, including emails and phone numbers, of its underage users.

This latest news serves as a much-needed reminder of the importance of online safety. Children may not always know how to safeguard their personal data: it’s crucial that, as a trusted adult, you have a deeper understanding of the risks of sharing data, as well as how to mitigate them.

We have therefore compiled a summary of everything parents and carers need to know to ensure their children’s personal information is protected online.~

What details need protecting & why?

If gleaned by online predators or fraudsters, your personal data can be used against you. The more details you share online, the more comprehensive a profile you are building of yourself. In the case of children, this profile can be used to groom them or befriend them to garner more information.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport advises: “Adjust privacy and safety settings to increase security and control the personal data you share. Look for the ‘privacy and security’ or ‘settings’ on the app or website.”

Aside from the obvious (full names, addresses, contact details, etc), it’s also important not to disclose potential answers to plausible security questions. These may include your mother’s maiden name, first schools, pets’ names, etc. Additionally, stress to your children the importance of never divulging their passwords.

Can my child still use social media?

In Ofcom’s Media Lives 2018 study, one in five children aged 12-15 that theyquestioned admitted to being contacted online by someone they did not know.

Social media giants, such as FacebookInstagram, and Twitter, require certain details before you can set up a profile. To help protect your children's data online, review their social media privacy settings with them and put them on the highest privacy options available.

These platforms may also encourage you to share personal information, such as your address. Share as few details as possible and keep profiles to the bare minimum.

Sometimes the biggest threat to a child’s online privacy is often the parents. The Children’s Commissioner 2018 report, Who Knows About Me?, found that parents with children aged 0-13 share, on average, 71 photos and 29 videos of their children each year.

A fifth of these parents have public profile settings and over half are ‘friends’ with people they do not fully know. This means that the content they are sharing of their children is being shared with strangers.

Make sure you’re not oversharing on social media. Every post celebrating a birthday, first day of school, or certificate allows online predators more opportunity to build a profile around your child.

An introduction to social media by Myleene Klass can be found here.

My child plays online games – what are the risks there?

Online games provide children with entertainment and an opportunity to socialise with friends. However, the dangers of online games are as much present as they are on social media. To help protect your child’s personal data online, ask your them to avoid using their real names for their usernames and to make one up instead. Teach them to treat people online with the same caution they would with strangers on the street and only permit them to befriend fellow gamers if they know them in real life.

Moreover, some popular games, such as FortniteMinecraft or Roblox, have voice chat. If your child is using this feature, particularly if they are young, have them play in a communal family room so you know with whom they are speaking and what they are saying.

Find a comprehensive suite of guides and explainer videos on the best practices to protecting children and their personal data regarding online gaming here.

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