Calls for Children's Data Code to protect youth online

Tuesday, 05 October, 2021

Calls for Children's Data Code to protect youth online

Reset Australia is calling on the federal government to adopt a Children's Data Code to better protect the data of young people online.

New polling by the organisation suggests that teenagers want it to be easier to delete online profiles, and many feel uncomfortable with targeted advertising.

It also shows that many teenagers are uninformed about what platforms have access to their private data.

The polling, which reveals what kind of data protection Australian teenagers want to see, comes in anticipation of the government's own review of the Privacy Act.

Key findings from the YouGov polling, conducted on behalf of Reset Australia, include:

  • 81% of surveyed teenagers want the 'right to delete', so they can easily request that their personal data be deleted;
  • 58% considered themselves uninformed about when and who their personal data is being shared with;
  • 82% had seen ads so targeted they felt uncomfortable;
  • 72% had been recommended content that made them feel uncomfortable;
  • 77% want privacy settings to be set to the most private options by default, for those under 18 years old;
  • 71% want rules restricting sticky design techniques that use their data to keep them using a product or service for longer;
  • 79% want to be able to access and know what data is held about them through easy mechanisms;
  • 79% want 'data minimisation' rules, or to limit the amount of data that can be collected to only that which is really necessary.

"Young Australians want to see an end to big tech's unfettered use of their most private and intimate data," said Chris Cooper, Executive Director of Reset Australia.

"Young people understand, perhaps better than most, that their data is used to keep them online for longer or target them with hyperspecific, inappropriate or harmful content. They want to see meaningful regulation of big tech so they can have greater control over their privacy, including the freedom to truly delete social media profiles and reclaim their data."

Reset Australia is calling for a code that includes making sure children and parents have meaningfully consented to their data being used, and that only absolutely necessary data would be collected. They are also calling for the code to be enforced by a strong and enabled regulation with the power to issue criminal sanctions for extreme breaches.

"Social media was never designed to factor in children's rights. We need some ground rules to protect how young people's data is collected and used, especially given we don't know the long term ramifications of unchecked data harvesting," Cooper said.

"This needs to be a rigorous code so that children can have meaningful protection."

Natalie Siegel-Brown, Managing Director of Child Wise, said the polling shows young people want clearer data rights and greater control over what personal information is online.

"Children's data is now collected from birth. Yet there are no systems in place to protect their online profile, nor is there any expectation social media giants will implement systems to keep children’s information safe," Siegel-Brown said.

"The Reset Australia report finds that young people are confused about what they're consenting to when it comes to how their data is used. Many adults would struggle to understand the terms and conditions they are signing up to, so how can children be expected to understand what will happen with the information they put online? Making terms and conditions easier to understand as well as introducing data minimisation is an obvious place to start to improve data rights.

"There is a clear need for a focus on algorithms, too, which are created and trained using children's data. We need to make sure that these algorithms are not used to target and retarget young people with harmful content.

“Children's hopes, dreams and fears are among the data that is harvested by digital platforms. This data is used by algorithms to target them with advertising that can be so specific it makes them feel uncomfortable. The report is a clarion call to the government and the technology sector: what are we going to do about this now we see it in black and white?”

The polling conducted by YouGov, on behalf of Reset Australia, surveyed 400 young people aged 16–17 across Australia. It was conducted via an online panel in May 2021. The full report can be read here.

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