More Good Ideas about Protecting Personal Data Online

Growing Up Digital, a new report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, considers the issues young people face online and how to tackle them via a number of great recommendations.

The key point picked up by the press is the need to simplify the hugely complex terms and conditions policies which children have to sign-up to before they can use social networks. The report’s publication of what terms and conditions mean when written in clear and simple language reveals how cleverly worded some of their most onerous and intrusive aspects really are.

This recommendation compliments aspects of the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Commissioner is clearly keen to ensure the protections for children outlined in the GDPR are mirrored in UK law regardless of the outcome of Brexit.

If companies follow these recommendations they will be going a long way towards helping young people understand what information they are sharing and what may happen to it.

The proposals are good first steps, but one of the major issues, as the report notes, is how unprepared children are for the digital world.

Increasingly we are becoming digital citizens by default. If children aren’t properly taught what this means and what the implications of living life online are they will be at a major disadvantage. Schools have to take the lead in properly educating children about how to stay safe online and what the real value of their personal data is.

Last year we published our report “Another Brick in the Wall?” which revealed that over 1000 schools in England and Wales are using monitoring software on devices used by pupils in the classroom.

Our research found that the acceptable use policies signed by students offered only limited information about the software, its use and the impact on student’s data. We argued that schools should be far more proactively engaged in explaining to students what they are agreeing to as well as what impact the tools may have on their privacy and data protection. Being transparent with pupils in this way would be a good opportunity to engage them with issues such as online threats, consent and their personal data.

Whilst we welcome this report from the Children’s Commissioner the concerns and recommendations apply to adults as well as children. Adults too face many of the same issues, after all our knowledge of the online world is still in its infancy. Anyone accessing the internet for any length of time can be bamboozled by terms and conditions policies and regularly have no idea about what data they are giving away, to whom or why.

This report, and its recommendations, should be taken seriously. Its suggestions could help everyone gain more control of their personal data and their online presence.