If you’ve ever handed a smartphone or tablet to a toddler who just wouldn’t quiet down or found yourself trying to regulate the amount of time your children spend online, you know that the digital lives of children are in equal measure a profound source of promise and peril.
While questions about screen time are a perennial favorite topic when it comes to children, and in no way trivial, there are some much darker issues that merit discussion, but seldom make it through the din that makes the digital world such a treacherous place for young people.
#2: Privacy-Violating Apps
Back in 1998 when Shania Twain was super popular and most people went online using dial-up connections powered by this or that sluggish Behemoth of the early Internet, Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. It was one of the earliest pieces of Internet regulation, designed specifically to prohibit online services from collecting information on children under 13 years of age.
Unfortunately, COPPA didn’t work as expected. A recent survey of roughly 6,000 Android apps found that over half of them violated COPPA.
While app stores and legal authorities may try in earnest to enforce COPPA, it’s an impossible task. There are too many apps designed for children to make sure all of them are without any privacy violations. A recent survey counted more than 15,000 apps on the Amazon app store alone created for and marketed to children. The risk of prosecution for a COPPA violation is low and the potential for profit is high. Children are a major target for advertisers. Any information about their likes and dislikes can be easily converted into profits.
What you can do about it: Check your children’s devices regularly to make sure they can’t install apps on their own, and aren’t using any app you don’t know about. You should also check their privacy settings. Do your homework on the data collection and storage practices of any new apps or websites used by a child. Unless a company states explicitly that it is not collecting and aggregating data on your child, it’s safe to assume that they are.