02 February 2023

Enhancing children’s online safety

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       The internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, and children are no exception. With the increasing use of technology, it’s crucial to ensure that children are protected while they are online. The internet can expose children to various dangers, including scams, cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and online predators.

 

According to a survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance, 59% of parents report that their children have encountered online content that they deemed inappropriate. This highlights the need for parental supervision and control over the content that children are exposed to online.

It’s crucial to educate them about the dangers they may face. Parents and teachers should educate children about online safety, including the importance of keeping personal information private, avoiding online predators, and reporting any instances of cyberbullying.

 

Technology companies also have a role to play in protecting children online. They can develop algorithms and filters that can identify and remove inappropriate content and restrict access to it. Additionally, companies can also offer parental control features that allow parents to monitor and control their children’s online activity.

 

In the U.S.A and probably in most western countries where kids have easier access to the digital world, there is since 2020 a rise of victims under 20’s falling prey to cybercrime.

In 2019 the increase of victims from the GEN-Z bracket was 17.47%, in 2020 it was 116.21%.

 

THE CNIL RECOMMENDATIONS

 

To tackle the ever growing issue of online safety for children, the CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés/ National commission for computing and liberties) published 8 recommendations in order to create a digital environment that is more considerate of children’s best interests.

 

Recommendation 1: Regulate the capacity of children to act online

 

Depending on their level of development and in any case older than the age of 15, the CNIL believes it would be reasonable to consider children to be of legal age to enter into contracts involving the processing of their data for online services, such as joining a social network or an online gaming website, if :

 

  • the services are appropriate for a young audience
  • the processing adheres completely to the GDPR’s and the French Data Protection Act’s data protection guidelines
  • clear information details the purpose and extent of the commitment being made
  • parents are enabled with the legal right to request deletion of their child’s account

 

Recommendation 2: Encourage children to exercise their rights

 

According to the GDPR, children should be informed of their rights in a way that is suitable for their age and level of development. Logic demands that they should be able to execute them as well, if they have grasped them. Similar to this, the GDPR offers minors the option to agree to specific forms of personal data processing. If they were subsequently unable to exercise their rights to that processing, such as for data they had submitted themselves, that would be incongruous (e.g. photos on Instagram, videos on TikTok).

 

Recommendation 3: Support parents with digital education

 

Numerous studies reveal that although expecting a lot of help from the government, parents don’t fully understand the options accessible to them for online kid protection. Parents are concerned about how much and at a younger age their children are using digital technology, especially given the scenario brought about by the epidemic that has increased such usage. They want practical counsel to help their children be responsible and socially aware.

 

Recommendation 4: Seek parental consent for children under 15

 

In principle, article 45 of the French Data Protection Act elaborates on how consent for extra features, like deciding whether a social network profile should be public/private or turning on optional geolocation on an app should be based on mutual agreement between the kid and the holder(s) of parental rights. In other words, the kid cannot override the parents’ resistance to certain forms of processing and parents cannot go against their child’s requests for such processing.

 

Recommendation 5: Promote parental controls that respect the child’s privacy and best interests

 

Certain parental controls request a substantial quantity of personal information about the kid, which may not always be necessary or may seem excessive (e.g., continual tracking). Additionally, there are a few highly intrusive elements that might transform parental control into a risky sort of surveillance:

 

  • A lack of trust between parents and children
  • Indering the empowerment of the child
  • The child becoming accustomed to being under constant surveillance

 

Therefore, any suggested parental restrictions must adhere to the following data protection laws in particular:

 

  • the proportionality principle, which avoids using invasive elements like persistent surveillance and takes into account the child’s interests, age, and degree of maturity
  • the idea of being transparent with a youngster by outlining the parental restrictions that are being employed
  • the idea of data security for children, which aims to prevent other parties from accessing information about them (such as their geolocation)

 

Recommendation 6: Strengthen the information and rights of children by design

 

Children must be informed of their rights and the purposes for which their data will be used, which necessitates speaking to them in their own language in an engaging manner. To avoid interfering with the user experience, this might entail, for instance, using concise, clear, and simple sentences and only providing information when it is necessary to make a decision. It might also entail using interactive elements like icons, videos, or images, or blending the information into the graphic interface of the relevant service.

 

Recommendation 7: Check the age of the child and parental consent while respecting the child’s privacy

 

According to a CNIL benchmarking research, existing or planned methods for determining age are often inadequate on two fronts. Some appear to be questionably compatible with data protection rules since they are based on the mass collecting of personal data (e.g. facial recognition). Others are less invasive but ineffectual because kids can get around them too readily (e.g. self-declaration or email verification).

 

Regarding the verification of parental consent, it is important to keep in mind that, in general, consent must come from both parents, regardless of their marital status, civil partnership status, cohabitation status, or choice to live together or apart.

The freedom to use the internet anonymously must be maintained, according to the CNIL, even while methods for verifying age and parental agreement must be put in place for some apps and websites.

 

Recommendation 8: Provide specific safeguards to protect the interests of the child

 

Making sure that any extra features that are not a part of the core service are deactivated by default is one way to find a solution. For instance, registering for an account and utilizing the website are fundamental services for an online gaming platform, but geolocation may be an optional feature (for example, if it allows the child to identify him or herself on a geographical map of players).

 

Children should be “protected from all forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of their welfare in relation to the digital environment,” according to the UN General Comment, “because by creating and sharing content, children may be economic actors in the digital environment, which may result in their exploitation.” Therefore, the UN implores member States to adopt all necessary steps to safeguard children in regard to the digital world and protect them from being turned into commodities.

 

      Protecting children online requires a multi-faceted approach. Parents, teachers, and technology companies all play a critical role in ensuring that children are safe while they are online. By educating children about online safety, using parental control features, and relying on technology companies to develop appropriate filters, we can enhance the protection of children online and give them a safe and enjoyable experience.

 

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