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Researching children's data privacy
Published in the Auckland Local Matters community paper 15 July 2019

Orewa sociologist, Dr Caroline Keen, wants to find out more about how parents and young people perceive and manage their online data privacy.

Supported by InternetNZ, Dr Keen is interviewing local parents of teenagers, and the young people themselves, about these issues, starting this month.

She hopes that her research – the first of its kind in NZ – may lead to effective ways of protecting the privacy of personal data.

She says most international research into young people’s online safety has focused on the content, contact and communication risks.

“Such research has led to ‘awareness-raising’ campaigns and education warning about online safety risks such as stranger danger, sexting and cyberbullying, which have generally sought to limit young people’s information sharing and activities online,” Dr Keen says.

“However, what has been absent is research around privacy rights with regard to market forces. All individuals, including children, can be subject to involuntary and invisible collection of data that occurs through the tracking and data mining.

Dr Keen says teenagers are avid users of technology, often first to use and buy new services and digital devices. This makes them a highly significant and attractive market to businesses. “While offering entertainment benefits, websites, apps and online information services are frequently targeted toward young people to solicit not only names, ages, email addresses, physical addresses and phone numbers, but also highly personal information such as images, opinions, activities and contacts.”

She says little research has been carried out to explore how aware parents and children are of the commercial business models that now monetize personal information.

“Policymakers and educators need to know how parents and young people perceive and respond to businesses that use AI, big data and analytics to collect an increasing array of personal data.”

“For this reason, the EU Global Data Protection Regulation, introduced last year, emphasised that children should be protected from manipulative marketing, unnecessary data collection, and discrimination through profiling practices. Despite this, global tech companies like Facebook continue to make headlines as it is revealed how much data they mine from teenagers. In NZ, it is hoped that revisions to legal mechanisms such as the Privacy Act 1993 will address the protection of personal information in the fast changing digital environment. However, in order to address data protection rights, we need to know more about how well people grasp how information is collected about them online.

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