The findings from the third annual Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN) Privacy Sweep revealed that many websites and applications have inadequate protective controls to effectively limit the amount of personal information that is captured from children online. To make the matter worse, these websites and apps are also referring children to other sites with completely different privacy protection practices and in many cases questionable content.
This Sweep was done on popular websites and mobile applications that are geared toward children and focused on whether parental involvement was needed to play or view content. It also looked at the level of ease to delete personal account information.
Over a period of 5 days, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and 28 other privacy authorities conducted the Sweep here locally and around the world by examining 1,494 apps and websites. Some 172 websites and apps for both iOS and Android platforms were examined by the Privacy Commissioner office in Canada, which has since released their findings and observations on personal information these websites and applications.
“Children represent a vulnerable segment of the population and companies should make every attempt to avoid collecting their personal information,” Commissioner Daniel Therrien says. “We were pleased to see that a smaller, albeit significant, number of mostly targeted websites and apps swept did not collect any personal information at all, demonstrating it is possible to have a successful, appealing and dynamic product that is also child friendly and worry-free for parents.
“We saw some innovative examples of protective controls such as the use of pre-set usernames and avatars to prevent children from using their real names or photos,” said Therrien. “Still, too many developers are collecting particularly sensitive personal information such as photos, videos and the location of children, and often allowing it to be posted publicly, when there are clearly ways to avoid it.”
The objective of this Sweep was not to investigate but to encourage businesses to conform to privacy legislation while enhancing co-operation with privacy enforcement authorities. In the meantime, concerns highlighted in the Sweep will be used to educate, foster outreach between organizations and enforcement authorities and look at what possible action should be taken if required.
“Given the large number of apps and websites that say they may disclose the information to third parties, it raises questions about the appropriateness of tracking children for the purposes of, for example, advertising,” said Therrien. “It also raises all sorts of questions about the potential for harm to both reputation and well-being.”
To date, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has issued a classroom activity for teachers to educate students about privacy policies and issues as it relates to the collection of personal information online along with 10 tips on protecting your online privacy. This is a great resource to help teachers and parents protect children from the harms of disclosing personal information online.
“Children, parents and teachers, as well as website and app developers, all have a role to play. Children need to learn about and understand digital privacy issues; parents and teachers need to be aware of it themselves and impart that knowledge to youngsters; and developers must recognize that children are among their users and deploy effective privacy controls to protect them,” said Therrien.
As it stands, the best way to protect your children and their privacy is cease using websites and applications that require personal information and to instead use those that aren’t collecting any personal information at all.
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