Culture Module: Children’s Digital Privacy

Digital Privacy and the real world

Parents have always played as the protector and moral example for their children. Now, with the growing connection between our virtual and real selves, the roles of parents have become muddled. What rights and responsibilities do parents have to protect their children online? What rights and responsibilities do children have in guaranteeing their digital privacy and self-image? These questions are tricky to answer. Parents want to keep loved ones updated on the special moments in their lives while, at the same time, keeping their children safe. The hidden dangers of social media and the internet are important to expose and use to educate parents about how to keep their families safe. While one act may seem innocent in a moment, it can leave a digital footprint years into the future. Everything we post remains on the Internet forever. Every email, tweet, upload, download, comment, search entry, even how long we stay on a section of a page are all pieces of data that are tracked and used in multiple ways. Being able to understand these ways and how this method of data collection is used can help internet users and their families stay protected and properly represented online.

The following are some examples of habits or events that happen to young children on the internet and how these actions affect that child’s future, safety, and self-image.

Sharenting

Sharenting , a combination of sharing and parenting, is the act of parents posting or over-sharing about their children on social media. It’s something that’s been gaining popularity as social media applications and sites became more mainstream. From ultrasound photos to development benchmarks, to academic achievements, to family vacations, sharenting is harmful to young children. Instead of sharing the big news via phone call or email, parents have begun to share these intimate moments on platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. Even the hashtags parents use, especially ones containing their child’s name can erase any digital privacy the child may have had. While there’s no intentional malice about sharing these precious moments with friends and family, the online uploads of their children can have a potentially damaging impact on their digital footprint and identity; so it’s important that the child if they are at least 4 years old, are asked for permission before uploading content of them online.

Due to the popularity of sharenting through social media, 81% of children under the age of 2 years old now have a digital footprint. When before, our digital footprints began when we created online profiles; now, younger generations learn to have a digital footprint before they even create any sort of social media or online account. One analysis of the moral dilemmas and conflicts of this issue states that “Parents now shape their children’s digital identity long before these young people open their first email. The disclosures parents make online are sure to follow their children into adulthood”. This report, written by Stacey Steinberg of Levin College of Law, tackles this issue from a lawful and ethical standpoint while showing statistics that may indicate the long-term harm of sharing a child’s information online. From her research, Steinberg has discovered that the lack of digital privacy can negatively impact a child’s development in terms of their sense of identity. By growing up without a sense of privacy, children are less likely to have a good overall sense of well-being or life satisfaction than children who grow up with privacy and supportive parents. It’s important that children be able to grow their own identity online and offline in order to thrive in adulthood.

Digital Kidnapping

The term “digital kidnapping” wasn’t one I was familiar with before doing research on child privacy online. I found it unsettling but unsurprising that this was a phenomenon common enough to have its own term. Digital kidnapping is a form of identity theft where a stranger takes photos and videos of a minor online and reposts this content as if the child were their own. Usually stolen by young women who want to experience “digital motherhood”, the real parents’ life can be seriously altered and disturbed. One case back in 2013 told the story of a new mother who discovered an Instagram account using photos of her 5-month old son for ridicule, calling her son ugly or disfigured. Another depicted a child whose photos were being used for sexual roleplaying on Instagram.

This act of theft and invasion of privacy are hard to stop once it starts. Everything we post is online, even if we delete it on our end it can still exist somewhere else. Not only is digital kidnapping scary for the parents, but it is also dangerous and terrifying for the children who are targeted.

Privacy Methods

With all of the unseen dangers online it may seem daunting and difficult to keep personal information secure. Luckily, there are a few simple ways to limit how much data is linked to you or available for others to see.

Two-Factor Authentication

Two-Factor Authentication has become more widespread in recent years, and for good reason. Its purpose is to make your password useless to people trying to hack your account. Instead of solely relying on your password for logging in, if the device is under a new IP (geographical location) than usual, the site or application will request you to enter a second form of identification such as a pin number, fingerprint scan, or phone number in order to log in. In order to activate two-factor authentication (or “2FA” for short), simply search “two-factor authentication” with the name of the site or company that you want to enable 2FA on.

Password Manager

Most sites alert your registered email when there has been an attempted log in on your account, which can be a sign that changing your password may be a good idea. It’s important to use different passwords for each account you create, regardless of the platform. Commonalties like matching passwords are the first things people look for when trying to access private information. If coming up with and keeping track of multiple passwords is a challenge then consider installing a password manager. Password managers are vaults that store and create hard-to-crack passwords that you can use for your accounts. Many options are free or only require a couple of dollars a month to use.

Social Media Privacy

Controlling what others see is the first step to consider when setting up a social media account. Private or public accounts are typically what most people decide, not giving a second thought to the other options and settings available to them. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat all have multiple levels of privacy settings that users can configure to meet their individual needs. It’s important to check out the settings on all current and previously made accounts, to ensure that what is being shown or is accessible is what you want people to see.

More Methods

In addition to privacy settings and password managers, there are more advanced ways to enable digital privacy. VPNs are a popular way to your devices safe and hidden from any parties who are interested in tracking user data or location. There are also settings within our smartphones and computers that can be changed to prevent personal data from being leaked.

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