Law in the Internet Society

"It Takes a Village" - Helping Parents to Protect the Privacy Environment of Digital Natives

-- By RebeccaBonnevie - rewrite 31 March 2018

A child's privacy ought to be valued and protected. This duty falls primarily to the adults in her life. Unfortunately, due to convenience and ambivalence digital natives are being born into already polluted privacy environments. The adults’ actions enable the collection of her data both direct and via their own behavior collection. Laws have been passed aiming to protect the privacy of children, but these set bare minimum requirements for an online platform/company regarding the private information of minors. Lawrence Lessig in “Law of the Horse“ suggests there are four modalities of regulation: law, social norms, markets and architecture. Out of these four, the true protection of a child’s privacy environment will be driven by a change to social norms and the architecture of software. While previous societies recognized it took a village to raise a child, in 2018 we need parents to recognize that “village” needs to take affirmative steps to protect their child’s privacy.

My interests here

I am a Mum. Before taking this class, I thought I was doing pretty well at protecting my kids’ privacy. In my na´vetÚ I thought keeping them off social media counted as keeping them private. I thought the channels through which I shared their photos and updates with my family were secure. Taking this class blew that view wide open and started me thinking about the components of a child’s privacy environment. My suggestions and thinking are from my own experience and my observations of my contemporaries (which I acknowledge is a small sample of a fairly homogenous group).

Providing what parents want & need

I posit that the goal of the majority of parents is to give their kids “the best” lives they can. Entire industries are constructed to influence what “the best” means; from ante-natal vitamins that benefit brain development, to social and educational experiences that purport to guarantee Little Sally's success as an adult. Protecting a child’s privacy ought to form part of this “best” life we give our kids.

Create the social norm: the importance of a child’s privacy environment

When I began this rewrite the challenge was how to convince parents that we should change our behavior – how to show that our actions affect the privacy environment of our children. I thought the relative “newness” of social media platforms and targeted advertising would mean the longterm effects for digital natives would not be apparent enough for parents to change our online behaviors. However, the revelations about Cambridge Analytica in the past few weeks has changed this. The shock and revulsion at the fact that Cambridge Analytica could obtain data about person A via a decision person B had made is precisely what we parents need to acknowledge. This shock and horror needs to be converted into understanding and action for parents – we do the sharing and our children's privacy environment is the collateral damage.

Incorporate privacy into antenatal education

New parents are apparently a retailer’s holy grail as we can be targeted to change previously fixed purchasing habits. I think this is also a pivotal moment for privacy educators to encourage a change of behaviors regarding privacy.

Prospective parents receive a lot of new information. In New Zealand new parents are supported by a publicly funded midwife and have access to support services for young children. We attend ante-natal classes and are taught about birth and newborn health and care. I think these services and classes need to be updated to incorporate privacy. A child’s privacy environment needs to be treated like any other aspect of the child’s health – parents need to be taught privacy protection alongside “how to swaddle your newborn”, and be provided with reading materials about privacy along with the pamphlet on breastfeeding.

This pivotal moment also can reach beyond the parental unit. For example, one of the things we were taught is the danger of whooping cough for a newborn and infant. The solution is a whooping cough vaccination. As the newborn is too young to be vaccinated before 12 weeks the adults must be vaccinated to ensure the newborn’s protection. This “village” reality for protection of a child’s health needs to translate into the digital world as well.

Provide the architecture: secure sharing

For new Mums social media is often a lifeline. It provides a space for connection and support during a major life event that can lead to feelings of isolation and incompetence, compounded for those who live remotely. From those who suffer from postnatal depression to those who need to find solidarity in sleepless nights, it is important that there are online spaces where these conversations can take place. This can be done securely without putting a child’s datapoints up for collection. For maximum engagement from parents at this pivotal (and exhausting) point in life I would suggest actions to protect privacy need to be easy to implement.

Where to from here

Privacy is a combination of three things: secrecy, anonymity, and autonomy. One of the problems with it being addressed by law is that privacy is often individualized rather than seen in the collective context. In reality, my "village" can protect or expose me and privacy should be approached with this in mind. I’ve attempted to articulate how this can be done by offering education and tools at a pivotal time in an adult's life that could have flow on effects to the wider family and friends. As for climate change in the kinetic world, those who have to live with the consequences of the actions of an adult population are those who have no say in those actions – children. Hopefully we can take action so the next generation won't have to be the ones marching in the streets.

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r5 - 01 Apr 2018 - 16:42:41 - RebeccaBonnevie
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