Children's Privacy and Data Protection in Digital Contexts

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Workshop 170

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[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

The session on children's online privacy and data protection emphasised that this issue is the responsibility of all stakeholders, especially in the roles of protecting privacy, and education.

Mr Steffen Eisentraut (Head, International Affairs, Jugendschudt.net) shared that 47% of all online content that includes children, displays them in embarrassing situations, which may be amusing to the viewers, but can cause the child to face mockery, harassment, or bullying. Mr Gehad Madi (Member, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Egypt) asked to what extent online privacy is actually achievable.

On the responsibility of protecting children’s rights, Ms Phakamile Phakamile (Head, Webrangers Program, Media Monitoring Africa) shared that parental interventions, government legislation, tech support, and tech policies are not enough to ensure children's privacy and protection. She said that if any positive impact is to be made, children have to be encouraged to voice their opinions.

Madi added that it is the responsibility of states to enact and monitor the activities of Internet providers and protect children, while Ms Rebekka Weiß (Head, Trust and Security, Bitkom e.V.) said that protecting children's rights cannot be the sole responsibility of tech companies.

Weiß said that it is not only the children, but also their parents who have responsibility for uploading content with their children. Madi underlined that children's privacy can be undermined by their own actions due to their lack of understanding on how to protect their rights to privacy, what their content can be used for, and the commercial practice of services.

Eisentraut stated that the topic of children’s online privacy is very complex since there is no consensus on how to deal with these issues. He shared that Youtube has a 16+ age restriction, while for Instagram it is 13+, but despite this, younger children use these services. Weiß emphasised the need to address all content that is illegal, citing an example of a dispute over the picture of a naked girl from the Vietnam War. He pointed to the gap between community guidelines and reality and added that we should take into account the needs and demands of young users. IT companies have to find better solutions for protecting children and how to include them in the discussion. They have to acknowledge both the right to participate and their right to be protected.

Weiß applauded the initiatives of tech companies, like the one regarding digital IDs, in protecting and safeguarding children’s rights. Eisentraut spoke of the need for intelligent risk management of social media companies and instilling the right of participation and the protection of children. He feels that sensitising parents and holding the IT companies responsible can help with these issues. Eisentraut suggested educating every single user, talking to parents, and supporting them in building capacities.

To help protect children’s rights, Ms Sonia Livingstone (Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science) shared their example of My Privacy Toolkit. Phakamile mentioned the Web Rangers site used in South Africa that encourages children to use the Internet responsibly. Eisentraut suggested addressing the education issue first, and then working with tech companies in developing a framework for protecting children’s rights. Phakamile suggested including child protection and children’s rights into the national curriculum.

By Amrita Choudhury

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