Generation Z: Are children conditioned to accept terms and conditions?

17 Dec 2017 09:00h - 10:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

This session, moderated by Ms Sabrina Vorbau, European Schoolnet/Insafe, and Ms Sofia Rasgado, Portuguese Safer Internet Centre, discussed online safety for Generation Z.

Children and youth of Generation Z, those born after the 1990s, spend considerable amount of time online. Yet, there is a lack of awareness about the terms and conditions (T&Cs) attached to the use of online platforms and applications (apps). The panel was concerned with the tendency to accept T&Cs without reflection on the implications for privacy and security. While this tendency is also common among adults, children and youth are particularly vulnerable and need additional support to navigate the conditions under which they are online. Further, while members of this generation are often considered digital natives, such descriptions gloss over some of the issues that need to be addressed when young people are online by assuming an innate ability to use digital tools appropriately and safely.

The panel brought together various stakeholders with a view to acknowledge different perspectives and find common solutions. Ms Irina Drexler, No Hate Speech Movement campaign of the Council of Europe, represented the voice of civil society. Mr Deepak Tewari, CEO Privately, represented private sector efforts to foster child safety online by providing technological solutions. Representing the youth, Ms Wilma Westenberg, from the Netherlands, and Mr Charalampos Kyritsis, from Greece, shared their personal experiences and own efforts in promoting child safety online among their peers.

The panel agreed that T&Cs are not user friendly. Westenbeg said that the length and level of technical language of T&Cs prevent most users to understand the conditions that they sign-up to. Kyritsis said that it remains unclear for most users how their data is used and what kinds of advertisements they will be targeted with after signing up for a service.

Tewari emphasised that this is often by design and that T&Cs remain unclear on purpose, owing to power discrepancies between the Internet giants who offer such services and the users and consumers. He stressed that the underlying business model is based on the exchange of a free service in return for personal data. Currently, users have little choice. They can refrain from joining a service or app but this leads to real issues of exclusion.

Drexler  agreed and added that this is a particular issue for children and youth, who place a very high importance on being part of a group. In many cases, refraining from joining a service or app is not an option for them.

Beyond the absence of user friendly T&Cs, Tewari also mentioned that there is currently a lack of procedure for airing grievances, such as a system of ombudsmen, and Drexler mentioned that in some cases T&Cs are not available in a variety of languages, adding an additional barrier for non-native English speaker.

The panel discussed a number of suggestions for improving the experience of T&Cs and enable children and young people to make more informed choices when accepting T&Cs:

  • Westenberg suggested that T&C’s could be explained using short videos, animations, or cartoons.
  • Drexler said that quizzes could highlight key points in a more playful way.
  • Generally, awareness about T&C’s could be promoted through gamification approaches.
  • Tewari suggested that the above could build on technological solutions, such as employing machine learning tools to automatically simplify T&Cs and present them in a user friendly way.
  • Both Westenberg and Kyritsis suggested that school curricula need to go beyond general digital citizenship and need to include awareness of the implications of T&Cs.

Looking to the near future, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will come into effect in May 2018, was mentioned as a positive development in terms of increasing safety and transparency. Yet, panellists agreed that there is a lack of awareness of the GDPR.

Further, the panel agreed that better policies need to be developed and awareness raising needs to be supported. Vorbau said that all stakeholders should be brought together in dedicated processes while Tewari said that policies need to be developed at regional and country levels. Drexler said that civil society needs to make good use of existing toolkits and needs to be supported to continue raising awareness.

By Katharina E Höne