A CHILD OF 6 YEARS arrives home from school with an iPad provided by the school board and its more than 300 apps. One of them, a free math game, rewards quick problem solving with virtual gems that unlock higher levels. But collecting these jewels requires an in-app purchase. “Dad, please buy it for me. My friend has it, ”the boy pleads. Dad, of course, perhaps not realizing his son’s personal information, including device details and his location, now powers the $ 130 billion surveillance-based advertising industry that powers the Internet.
To be honest with Dad (and the millions of other parents and caregivers who face similar appeals) it’s hard to fully understand the pervasiveness of online surveillance. According to a recent report by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, companies running the web collect personal information that is stolen by data brokers in distant places like Russia and China. And although children have to surf the Internet as part of their education, little has been done to prevent the commercialization of children’s sensitive data.
Many parents also don’t have the time to read endless privacy policies and study the intricacies of the internet to keep kids safe online. “I shouldn’t dig that deep to protect my children’s privacy,” says Gretchen Shanahan, a mother of two in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, recalling her steep learning curve when her twins brought home their first iPads from. ‘asylum. These challenges are widespread: Google’s Chromebooks account for more than half of the 13 million mobile devices in primary and secondary schools, followed by Apple and Microsoft devices. Over the past decade, the number of children accessing Google Education apps has grown to at least 30 million.
As important as it is for lawmakers to take action on data privacy, parents like Shanahan, teens and privacy experts have learned a lot from their efforts to protect children from online surveillance. In fact, tapping on built-in controls and third-party apps can help make school devices minimally safe.
The grip of surveillance advertising
Behavioral or personalized advertising is supported by tracking technologies that track a person’s online activity across apps and devices, gathering data that, in theory, will help businesses target them with more enticing ads. Advertising technology platforms, operated primarily by Google, Meta, and Amazon, use embedded code to extract this information from apps and websites connected to their networks. Powered by additional user data collected by their other web services (search engines, maps, streaming video archives, and so on), these tech giants use this treasure trove of data to enhance their ability to define highly specific audiences for advertisers. It all works as part of an auction system that connects ad shoppers with suppliers, helping these three massive platforms collect over 70% of digital ad spend globally.
As for young people, this is all happening under the surveillance of existing, but minimal, privacy safeguards. Although the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), for example, has existed since 1998 to safeguard children, many companies bypass it. In 2019, for example, the Federal Trade Commission found that YouTube violated COPPA and made about $ 50 million from ads targeting children by collecting their information without parental consent and pretending not to know it was targeting children. . Serge Egelman, director of the Berkeley Laboratory for Usable and Experimental Security, also found that more than half of child-centric apps send advertisers sensitive data from those under the age of 13.
Data brokers, who collect and sell personal information, compound the problem. These parties have unregulated access to this data to build and sell profiles to anyone willing to pay, including scammers and other criminal groups. This is a big reason why Girard Kelly, director of the privacy program at Common Sense, a nonprofit that examines the privacy practices of technology vendors targeting children, believes the data brokerage market it should be eliminated.
All is not lost
Unlike many millennials of the same age, today’s teens discuss the flaws of social media, including what they do to users’ mental and physical health. Take Zamaan Qureshi, a 19-year-old college student and a member of the advocacy group The real Facebook supervisory board: He has spent at least four years demanding technological responsibility and says social media companies have used his generation as “guinea pigs” to grow their businesses.
This increased attention seems to shift the needle of privacy rights, but it is only the beginning. In Congress, the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) and the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) are poised for a full vote in the Senate. The former extends COPPA’s original protections to children up to age 17 and prohibits the use of data for behavioral advertising towards children, while the latter requires social media platforms to create more safeguards to protect young users from harassment. online or self-harming content.
Know the difference between the payment plans
Overall, however, being an informed consumer also goes a long way. In the world of apps, that means being aware of the pay structure and what it can mean for data access. A free app pushing you for updates is the easiest path for a developer to a steady revenue stream, says Kelly of the software that costs nothing to download but has in-app purchases. She cautions that while paid apps aren’t all unsupervised, they tend to be more transparent about the kind of content kids and parents can expect. For example, menus within apps that cost, say, $ 1.99 off usually display all available features and content, while apps based on in-app purchases will not unlock all content until update.
Since all apps have small fonts, privacy-focused reviews can help you decide if they’re safe to download. The Common Sense Assessment Tool is the oldest and most trusted source on the market for evaluating gaming or educational apps for your child. For example, you’ll find that Doodle Buddy, a popular drawing app among kids, carries a common sense warning label for practices like user profiling to impress them with personalized ads within the app and a lack of clarity. that users’ personal data helps advertisers target them with ads on other apps and services.
Limit screen time
The less time children spend in front of a screen, the less likely strangers are to get their hands on the personal data of the little ones. If your family is rooted in the Apple ecosystem, the enterprise-built Screen Time tool can help you monitor a child’s device. On an iPad, for example, set it up by going to Settings > Screen time > This is my son’s iPadand following the instructions. You can limit the hours for particular apps and set when it’s time to turn down the screen. Whenever your child reaches the time limit, a pop-up will warn him to let him go. They won’t be able to make changes and bypass this barrier unless you tell them the password to unlock the settings. Other popular operating systems and devices have similar settings.
Disable targeted advertising options on school devices
Users can also opt out of personal advertising, but companies don’t make these options easy to find. For Android devices and Chromebooks, go to your child’s Google account page, find Privacy and personalizationand click Ads settings. After that, go back to Privacy and personalization screen, where you can further disable the option to save web and app activity, including YouTube location and history, and set automatic deletion time intervals between three and 18 months. All iPads with iPadOS 14.5 or later will ask you to accept or decline apps that follow you on the web for personalized ads. To set it as the default choice, go to Settings> Privacy> Monitoringand tap the switch to decline all app requests to track you.
Buy a child-focused phone
If the little ones are too small for a smartphone, a good starter might be a Gabb Wireless phone. Launched in 2018, these gadgets don’t support Wi-Fi, social media, or games, but they do allow children to communicate with their specific parents and contacts. Cosmo Technologies, launched in 2020, plans to release a similar phone in 2023.
Get familiar with parental control apps
If a child insists on a smartphone, because life happens, parental control apps can help you navigate its use. OurPact ad-free app, available for around $ 10 per month, allows parents to manage the amount of text messages their kids can send in a day, filter websites on different browsers, and receive alerts when the phone arrives in specific places (such as school, playground, or a friend’s house).
The FTC is beginning to explore what new actions it can take to crack down on surveillance and its harm to children. California has just adopted a broad Age-Appropriate Design Code Act which will ban user profiling until the age of 18, and this has been publicly supported by teenagers. “Once we understand it [addiction] it’s by design, the conversation changes, “says Qureshi. But as consensus on federal solutions takes time to build, staying abreast of what you can do with existing tools can help reverse the balance of power.
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