How One Group Wants to Simplify Internet Privacy for Kids

January 8th 2017

Willie Burnley Jr.

The world of social media has a monstrously large population, with more people sharing videos, posts, and comments online than lived on the planet prior to 1850.

Every day, you make the conscious and routine decision to share your personal information with the many companies that own social media platforms.

Children and teenagers also make this choice daily, largely without understanding the privacy policies to which social media companies require them to agree as a condition of using their platforms.

That prompted a U.K. agency to study the issue and to suggest a way to simplify privacy warnings for children.

The Children's Commissioner for England, which advocates for the rights of children, created a task force to study the Instagram usage of members of Generation Z — people 18 years old and younger, who are part of the post-Millennial generation.

The resulting yearlong investigation, "Growing Up Digital," found that up to a third of active social media users under the age of 15 in the United Kingdom had an Instagram account, even though most could not understand the privacy agreement they accepted or their rights under it.

Jenny Afia, a privacy lawyer and a member of the task force, created a simplified privacy statement to be used with children who were unaware of the implications of sharing their information online.

"Although you are responsible for the information you put on Instagram, we may keep, use and share your personal information with companies connected with Instagram. This information includes your name, email address, school, where you live, pictures, phone number, your likes and dislikes, where you go, who your friends are, how often you use Instagram, and any other personal information we find such as your birthday or who you are chatting with, including in private messages (DMs)."

Children who viewed the simplified warning seemed to comprehend their privacy rights better.

The Children's Commissioner recommended that its simplified "Terms and Conditions" section be part of any service that children use.

It also recommended that more work be done to mediate the relationship between social media companies and people under 18 years of age.