50% of websites, apps share children’s personal information: privacy sweep

WATCH ABOVE: A global privacy sweep is giving a clear look at just how much of children’s information is being bought and sold online. Tom Vernon has the story.

EDMONTON — An international project analyzed 1,494 websites and apps around the world and found 67 per cent collected children’s personal information and 50 per cent shared that information with other organizations.

The annual privacy sweep was conducted by the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN).

Of the websites and apps examined, results included:

  •  67 per cent collected children’s personal information
  • 31 per cent had effective controls in place to limit the collection of personal information from children
  • 50 per cent shared personal information with third parties
  • 22 per cent provided an opportunity for children to give their phone number
  • 23 per cent allowed users to upload photos or video
  • 58 per cent offered children the opportunity to be redirected to a different website
  • 24 per cent encouraged parental involvement
  • 71 per cent did not offer an accessible means for deleting account information

GPEN is not publishing a list of the websites and apps that contributed to these results and whether they released personal information or not.

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WHO DID IT BETTER? A look at children’s apps/websites and the privacy protective controls on offer

“A lot of the apps and websites need some personal information because they use it to target ads to people and to qualify whether you’re of legal age or not and to be able to share info out to your group of friends, to expand their reach on their ads,” said David Papp, a technology expert and president of MicroTek Corporation.

He said it’s important to teach children about online security and privacy.

“Number one: teach them to be open with you,” said Papp. “Number two, depending on the age of the children, the computer should be in a public location in the household that you can see it, maybe around the kitchen or living room, not a private room.”

Papp said parents and children should ask themselves, ‘why do they need to know this? How is this information going to be used?’

“The problem I have with a lot of younger generations is they treat online social networks as like a popularity contest. They don’t know all people they’re connected to….that’s where it becomes very dangerous. That information will haunt you later on in life. A – the access that people have to your information that’s private and B – some friend posts a funny photo of you, you did something silly, and now it’s part of your digital paper trail.”

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This year’s project focused on children’s online privacy. Twenty-nine information and data protection regulators participated in the sweep.

“This global sweep provides a unique opportunity for us to collaborate with international information and data protection authorities on issues of mutual concern, such as this year’s focus on children’s privacy,” said Jill Clayton, Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

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“Each day, more people become aware of the massive amounts of their personal information being shared between organizations.

“These statistics on children’s personal information may provide parents and guardians with a moment of reflection to ask, ‘Why do organizations want to know this much about my child? What are the potential benefits or harms to my child? How can I have more control over my child’s personal information?'”

The project also found some websites and apps that were providing effective protective controls, like parental dashboards and pre-set avatars or usernames to prevent children from mistakenly sharing their own personal information.

Other protective measures found were chat functions that allowed children to only choose words and phrases from pre-approved lists and “just-in-time” warnings to deter children from unnecessarily entering personal information.

The third annual privacy sweep by GPEN also included a lesson plan for students in Grades 7 and 8 instructing them how to conduct their own privacy sweep.