Kids Online Privacy Guide 2019

Till the 90s, kids were more into kicking the soccer ball, instead of pressing the screens. There was a risk of getting injury and physical pain, but now the parents are worried about the mental abuses.

The shift of the children from the playfield to the Internet has not only brought limitations to the mental and physical growth but has also brought concerns about their privacy.

Internet which is the universe of knowledge is unbiased to all the information it holds. Everyone (including children) can explore its every corner, even the dark ones, and that’s where we need to keep track of children’s activities and put restrictions.

After the 90s, communication over the internet expanded, and social media platforms became popular for connecting people. With the new advancement, the new threats which are harmful for every user, but especially for the kids came into existence. Kids are more vulnerable to any side effect of the technology than an adult because at the younger age the mind isn’t effective in decision making, and it can be easily manipulated.

It had happened with many people that when one tried to purchase anything, he realized that the balance in his account is null.

What could be the possible reason? Cyber-attack? Hackers? System Fault?

Or perhaps, his little kid would have liked the gun which he found on his favorite gaming platform as an in-app purchase. Many gaming software programs target children who don’t understand the value of earning and purchase the products as notoriously innocent acts.

Like, we have mentioned in our Complete Online Privacy Guide, the Internet is full of pores from where the data may get leaked, and the intruders may pay unwanted visits. In the case of children, immoral content, violence on screens, pedophiles, and abusive gaming can be the potential intruders.

However, the governments of different countries are striving to put possible barriers between these intruders and children. The different online platforms are aware of the consequences and effect on the children, which will happen if they create an account on their websites. They are also making attempts, but…

“My philosophy is that for the education you need to start at a really, really young age. Because of the [legal] restrictions we haven’t even begun this learning process. If they’re lifted, then we’d start to learn what works.”

Mark Zuckerberg

But also,

“That’s why it’s important to make time to go outside and play. You will be busy when you’re older, so I hope you take time to smell all the flowers and put all the leaves you want in your bucket now.”

I hope you read your favorite Dr. Seuss books so many times you start inventing your own stories about the Vipper of Vipp.

These two sentences are by the same person whose name is Mark Zuckerberg. You might be well aware of him.

The difference is, in the first sentence, he is speaking against the age restriction that COPPA has placed for the users of social networking websites. In the second message, he and her wife Chan were addressing a letter to their second newborn daughter. That proves that the ideology of the founder and owner of the biggest social media giant is ambiguous. So, it’s not a good idea to trust the Internet to adjust itself according to the children.

However, parents and the people around children are the ones who can make adjustments in the devices to keep track of their activity. It’s necessary to know how much the government has worked to protect the kids.

Various laws to keep the kids safe

Different countries have different laws regarding online privacy of an individual; it’s even different for a person who is under eighteen. Some countries, such as China have stringent online privacy laws with a few differences with USA’s COPPA and EU’s GDPR-K. We will critically analyze all major frameworks that are created to safeguard the children from the online threats.

Before that, there stands an organization which creates laws that are followed by all over the world as basic human rights. UNICEF has made five principles for the online privacy of children which most of the governments follow.

United Nations’ General Principles

UNICEF governs these five principles in the interest of the children and safeguards their rights under its umbrella. These rights are the fundamentals which ought to be respected by every human being as a responsibility. UNICEF’s general principles aim to keep the kids away from violence, exploitation, and the content which can harm kids’ thinking.

The guiding principles are generated as the children’s physical privacy, children’s communication privacy, and children’s decisional privacy; all are getting affected by the implementation of present-day technology.

So, for respecting the kids’ privacy, they must be allowed to access online information safely, free from intruders, with the guidance and consent of their respective parents. They also explain that a child should be allowed to exercise freedom of expression, and access to information from a diversity of sources which could be only possible when they use the technology without unnecessary monitoring of their activity.  This is the only way to maintain their anonymity.

They must have the right to remove or correct any data that could harm their reputation or cause potential problems in their adulthood. If any violations in these rights occur, children and parents have the complete authority to seek justice by filing complaints and reporting content.

These rights provide a base to the international laws but aren’t sufficient to monitor children’s privacy at the domestic level. Because of this, many countries and unions have introduced acts that are supposed to fulfill their primary objective of ensuring complete child privacy. 

COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act)

Unlike UNICEF, COPPA focuses on the privacy of children below thirteen and not on teens. The act appeared and passed in the year 1998, and became live in April 2001. If one look at this period, it was the same period when websites started gathering and utilizing the personal information of kids for marketing and advertisement purposes.

According to this act verifiable parental consent is required if the website is going to collect and use the data of under thirteen website users. The verification of the consent is where the websites need to put more resources. The verification could be done by:

  • E-mailing the consent form present on the website.
  • By using a credit card.
  • By calling on the company’s toll-free number.

This verification process requires human resources, and various new implementations on the website, and setting a completely new section for a few young users. This won’t be a profitable idea.

Europe‘s GDPR-K

It is told that GDPR-K or GDPR-Kids has effectively mirrored COPPA. However, it has a few differences.

Under this, for any service that is offered to children as well as to an adult should be served differently. Because of this, publishers require identifying how old the user is, and on that basis, they need to provide the product differently according to the age. The definition of children according to the age is different for different countries.

GDPR laws were introduced in 2016 To Protect Data Privacy in EU

However, anyone below 13 would be considered as a child by every European country. The fines are as large as four percent of the total turnover or minimum twenty million Euros if any violation in the laws of GDPR-K occurs. That had scared every company which somehow involves anyone under thirteen.

Because of GDPR-K, the gaming sector faced challenges: whether to create a kids-directed game or not, no more targeting kids for advertisements, and reviewing and rewriting the privacy policy.

Potential Threats

Children are most vulnerable to data breaching and thus, implementing measures to safeguard them is more important. They are naïve and don’t know that providing information to someone could be harmful. That’s why, it’s necessary to know about their activities, and what information they give away and to whom.

To be the child’s friend is the best solution for knowing about his activities. There is a thin wall between “tracking the kid” and “spying the kid.” Tracking could be a healthy activity, but if it turns into spying, one may add oneself to the list of intruders which are breaching the kids’ privacy.

Talk to him about the potential risks, and about the content which could be harmful to his mind’s development.

It’s better not just to know about the threats, but also about the paths by which they can reach to the children. After one knows about the sources of threats, he must implement the solutions accordingly. That way breaching could be avoided, and your children’s information could be safeguarded.

Cyberbullying and Sextortion

Unlike school bullying, cyberbullying can happen anytime whenever the kid gets connected to the internet. Over social media platforms or gaming chat rooms, there is a possibility that the kid may come across abusive messages.

This may not be physically harmful but can affect the child mentally. It may lead the victim kid to depression, anxiety, and originate suicidal thoughts in his mind.

In the case of sextortion, the consequences could be worse. The online world is full of fake profiles which target their criminal activities on kids. These profiles target kids, lure them to disclose their personal information by creating emotional attachment. They do that to gather their sensitive picture and chats which, if published, can cause embarrassment and harm to the reputation.

In exchange for not publishing the information, they ask the kid to provide a huge amount of money, which obviously the kids can’t pay. It can not only mentally, but could also harm them physically. If they find no way out of it, it may stress them leading to suicidal thoughts, attempts, and commits.

How it May Happen?

It may occur at any platform wherever there is any social engagement is involved. It could be amongst the known or even with the unknown people.

If it’s with known, it may not be an issue as the child is already familiar with the person. However, sometimes it contradicts this fact. Even the known can conduct cyber-crimes related to children. For them, it is comparatively easier to conduct such criminal acts.

As they are already known to the children, building trust would not be tough. That way they could gather sensitive information about the children which they can use for sextortion.

The case with cyberbullying is the same. However, it is usually conducted by the unknown who keep their identity hidden. Social media and gaming chat rooms are the perfect passage by which they approach the children.

Social Media Platforms

Different social media platforms offer a different level of by default privacy which can be altered to some extent after you create the account.  Initially, even the unknown people can contact the child, and if the account isn’t private, he may also gather the information.

Example:

In the year 2017, Daily Mirror had reported about a sextortion gang which is believed to lure at least thirty teenagers a day. This gang used to pose as a “pretty brunette” on Skype, who then asks the teenagers to perform sexual acts in front of the webcam.

They record the activity after which they reveal their true identity. This is when the blackmailers ask for the money in exchange for keeping the information secret.

The gang asked a teenager victim to make a payment of eight hundred Euros through Western Union.

The helpless teenager who feared about the harm that can be caused to his reputation committed suicide after writing a suicide note about the activity. Later, many other suicides were linked to this gang.

Solution

These criminals approach children via major platforms such as Facebook, Skype, Instagram, and Snapchat. If one’s kid is using any of these four social networking sites, it’s an alarm for them to check whether the account is completely private or not.

On Facebook, there are options such as “who can contact me,” ”who can see my posts,” and “who can send me a message.” Set it to a minimal level for maximum privacy, and that will only allow a limited number of people to contact the child.

Similarly, for other applications also, you can discover the privacy settings, and make the account least exposed.

However, if one is still worried about the cyber bullies, they can install parental control software such as Pcmag which will allow one to monitor the activity that the children perform on using their devices.

You can also be in the friend list of your child on social media which will help you to detect if any harmful public activity occurs.

Gaming Applications

Nowadays gaming applications are mostly online, and people other than the known ones could also join to play together. These gaming applications not only allow the users to contact each other with text messages, but one can also see and hear each other while playing the game.

This makes the kid vulnerable whom the unknown could contact easily.

There could be a possibility that he gets bullied with abuse language which unfortunately happens often in online gaming.

Moreover, if the chat-rooms and voice rooms are public, it may harm the child mentally also if he feels that his reputation got harmed.

Example

According to a charity, Ditch The Label, half of the online gamers report of being bullied. They have even received abusive messages such as “I am coming to kill you.” Such a message from a stranger is no fun, and because of the abusive language, anxiety and depression developed in many gamers.

Some of them have even reported receiving unwanted sexual content. Even the personal information was leaked through the database. It could be harmful if such aggressive cyber bullies receive one’s personal information.

Solution

The first thing one ought to do is to talk with their children if he finds any difference in the child’s behavior. There could be signs of anxiety and depression if the case is serious and so, it is easily detectable.

If one finds about any such incident, he needs to report the user who has conducted the crime.

If you are still feeling insecure and worried about the online gaming vulnerabilities, you may install the KidLogger application which will provide you the information about the messages that your kid types and about every keystroke he presses.

Cyber Predators

If we talk about daily life, children can be followed to the various places they travel. However, it could be done in two different ways: by keeping track of their activity or by simply tracking the location of their device.

These cyber-predators have the same aim what these child traffickers and kidnappers have. But they fulfill their objective in a comparatively easy way. Just by tracking the location of the device, they can easily know where the child is.

That allows them to predict the time when he is most vulnerable, and let them act accordingly. Cyber predators are one of the biggest threats for children as they can conduct severe crimes such as kidnapping and child-trafficking

How it May Happen?

We already know that it can happen by simply tracking the location of the device and this information can be published by the child naively or obtained by the hackers from the device.

Social Media

Social media platforms provide an option to share the “check-in” option which shares the live location of the children, i.e. the exact place where he is at that moment. If there is any cyber predator in the kid’s friend list whom he has added knowingly or unknowingly can take advantage of this.

Also, he might have contacted the child and would have built trust for him in the kid’s mind. In that way, he can easily take advantage of the check-in information provided by the child.

Example

If the child posts the information regarding his travel to home, his present place, as well as the destination information, becomes available on the social media platform. There are chances that the child may be traveling alone.

If there is any predator with which the child is connected then it may lead to harmful consequences. The predator may use this information to commit the crime whenever he finds the child is vulnerable during the journey.

Solution

As we have already discussed changing the privacy settings of this social media application could be a good idea.

Also, a child must be told about the vulnerabilities and harmful effects of sharing the location on social media platforms.

Sometimes, these social media platforms automatically store the location if the permission is provided to them. One must not provide the permission to record the location as it may notify other users about our location without our knowledge.

Devices

That’s very easy to track one’s device. One malicious link and work is done. It’s so easy to install a location tracker in anyone’s mobile device. That could also be done by the emails containing infected files. After the tracker gets installed, the hacker could study the child’s location pattern and identify the time when he is vulnerable.

Example

Sometimes, it could be ironical that the devices which one uses for the safety purpose could be used by the hackers for spying on the child. In the year 2018, MiSafes’ child tracking watches were introduced whose main purpose was to let the parents have a track of their child’s location and contact them through it whenever wanted.

However, it was detected that these watches could be hacked easily as they don’t encrypt the data, and not even keep the child account secure.

Using that, the hackers can keep the record of the child’s location and even make spoof calls disguising them as the kid’s parents.

Solution

Using additional devices may not be the complete solution. However, you can install NetNanny to detect your child’s location. Other than knowing the location of your kid, it can be used for many other purposes also. It can also be used for filtering the content by keeping the vulgar media and malicious sites away from your kid’s eye. You can also monitor his social media accounts or block them which will keep him safe from incidents of cyber-bullying, sextortion, and other privacy breaches. You can even have remote access to his profiles and can make changes in the privacy settings and will avoid the needless outflow of his information.

For blocking others to do that, you can install antivirus, anti-keyloggers, and anti-spyware which will not permit any third-party to install an unwanted device in the child’s phone.

Qustodio provides a panic button which children can use at the time of emergency. Using it will inform the parents immediately that the children are in the problem. Other than this, it can also be used for monitoring social media, and for tracking calls and messages. That way you will know if the cyber predators try to keep their eyes on the children through any other means.

Using VPN (such as ProtonVPN or ExpressVPN) could also help to protect the kids against these predators. As all the data exchange occurs under the layer of encryption, it is tough for the hackers to bypass the security wall. This doesn’t allow the installation of malicious software programs, saving the kid from unnecessary tracking. VPN services which come with AES 256-bit encryption are best suited, and it will be a pro if they have built-in security features which won’t allow the kid to download unnecessary documents.

Harmful Ads and Retargeting

Advertisements could be harmful depending upon the age. They could be full of immoral content which may affect the child’s thinking. The advertising and retargeting companies don’t care much about the age of the user, but they target them according to their previous searches. These searches may not be harmful but the retargets could be. For instance, if the kid searches about the muscle development and gets retargeted by steroids advertisement, it may lead to a harmful purchase.

How it May Happen?

Browsers

Browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari are the windows which allow us to access the Internet world. Usually, malicious advertisements may occur on screen without any warning. Google Adsense may be a part of it, but not mostly. Sites which houses immoral content may also offer space to immoral advertisements.

Example

A teenage girl was browsing about the baby care, and pregnancy-related products and later a coupon was posted to her place which was received by her parents. That’s how they came to know about their daughter’s pregnancy. That was a serious breaching through the girl’s privacy by retargeting her according to her searches.

Solution

SafeSearch is Google’s privacy setting specially added to reduce the access of malicious content by kids. It filters out all the unwanted content by blocking selected websites or by creating a whitelist. However, to activate SafeSearch, there are always different paths for these browsers.

The first thing that you need to do is to set the default search engine as Google. Under the Settings option, find out search settings and turn on SafeSearch. Yes, it’s true that the children could undo the filtration but if one protects it under password; they do not have a way to go through it. Make sure that you do it with every browser separately and for all the devices separately.

If one doesn’t wish to take any chance that he might miss adding any website to the block list which Google would also miss, downloading Kids Friendly Browsers would be a better option. Browsers such as Zoodle and Kido’z are best suited as they offer flexible parental control and only allow the kids to visit content that is suitable for them.

Financial Loss

Kids obviously do not understand the value of money, and that’s why it’s easy for shopping websites and gaming applications to target them and empty their pockets.

While gaming, there are lots of unnecessary purchases available. If the provider has the PII of the user, he knows about his age. Using this factor, he can target advertisements and in-app purchases according to the age.

However, the PII is collected legally, and one can’t save himself from providing the information if he wishes to use the application.

Now, it’s necessary to provide payment facilities to the children which he can use during emergencies. But if the children use it for purchasing these items, the unnecessary loss will be there.

That’s why special payment cards can be used to safeguard children from doing unrequired shopping provided by Greenlight. Greenlight debit card lets the parents select that on which stores child can do the shopping. In that way, he will be able to buy stuff but won’t waste the money on in-app purchases.

Or else, you can select the websites or applications which you wish to exclude.

You can also keep track of their activity as it will notify you whenever your kid makes any purchase.

Also, you have the option to block the card from your phone if there is any unusual purchase which may not be done by your kid.

Another option is of using credit cards with very low limits which will not allow the kid to buy the products by spending a huge amount of money. However, in this case, some loss could be experienced.

Responsibility towards kids’ online privacy as a Teacher

Kids spend half of the time at school. The change in their behavior is equally visible to parents and school authorities.

So, the school authorities are equally responsible for the children’s privacy. If school or parents notice any change in behavior, they must contact each other for verifying the changes and to discuss the steps that must be taken for the welfare of the child.

 Everyone around the children should contribute to the safety, and it’s the only possible way to avoid any future risks which could cause damage to the mental and physical health of the child.

Teachers must create a positive environment and learn how to be a friend to their students. That helps the children to share their issues if it’s not possible for them to convey that to their parents. Regular counseling sessions between the teacher and the student could be beneficial to identify the thought process of the kid.

Internet affects thought process in lot many ways: the content that child visits, the people with whom he talks online and the online games he plays. If the thoughts hold negativity, then finding the resource and blocking it is one way of safeguarding privacy. The thought process must be conveyed to parents, and it’s their task to identify the resource.

However, if parents find the resource first, they could contact school authorities about the change in behavior and for suggestions that how one could avoid the content and undo the changes.

Responsibility towards kids’ online privacy as a Neighbor

As a neighbor also, one has the right to be involved in monitoring the activities of the kids if they smell anything suspicious. The kids could be more comfortable sharing their online activity with other kids rather than parents or school authorities. Because of that, there is a possibility that neighbors discover the problems before parents. That’s why it’s their responsibility is to convey the information to the respective parents if they discover any issues.

Now as we know about the intruders, the paths by which breaching may occur, and about the solutions, all we need to do is to implement these solutions for protecting the children. One must take these threats seriously as the breach mostly happens without warning and so, one needs to prepare the children for it.

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