Lords Committee recommend greater privacy safeguards for children

In a wide ranging report on the online experience of young people the House of Lords’ Communications Committee has raised concern about the privacy of children.

Alongside other proposals, the report puts forward a number of common-sense recommendations about how the data of young people can be protected online.

The Committee calls on organisations that collect data from children to properly explain why they want this information and what they plan to do with it. The issue of children not being given enough understandable information was previously raised by the Children’s Commissioner who examined how terms and conditions could be made clearer for young people.

The report rightly recognises the importance of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and calls on the Government to implement the GDPR irrespective of our membership of the EU. Although the Government has committed to transposing the GDPR into UK legislation, work has to be done to make sure organisations are ready for the change and that they understand what they will need to do to comply with it.

Big Brother Watch have long supported the ideas of privacy by design and opt-in consent so it is heartening to see the report tackling the subjects. The Lords argue that companies should automatically switch on their strictest privacy settings; this would include geo-location being set to off by default. Children would have to actively choose to make the change. Ideally this would not only apply to young people, but to citizens of all ages.

The problem of ensuring that children and their parents understand what is happening to their information is of very real importance and applies to all areas of a child’s life. We raised the issue of transparency at school in our report “Classroom Management Software – Another Brick in the Wall?” The report revealed that over 1000 schools in England and Wales use software to monitor the activity of pupils on computers, laptops and other devices in the classroom.

In many cases the acceptable use policies signed by pupils provided very little information about what software was being used, what it could do and what would happen to the personal data of pupils. We called on schools to be more transparent about the tools they are using and more proactive in talking to pupils about what they are actually agreeing to. This is a good opportunity to engage on issues such as privacy, data protection and consent; but in too many cases it appears that it is being ignored.

The Committee’s report makes some important recommendations. The amount of information collected about young people, and indeed all of us, online is only going to continue to grow, action must be taken sooner rather than later to properly protect privacy and help children understand how they should go about engaging in a digital world.