Digital presence is ubiquitous and increasingly unavoidable. What does that mean for the youngest generations?

As consumers increasingly live online, the idea of data as a cold and impersonal series of zeroes and ones is falling away; instead, data is increasingly acknowledged as a deeply personal pillar of digital identities.

This is especially true for parents trying to manage their children’s digital presence. 53% of American parents with children under 18 years old (moms 57%, dads 48%) are “very concerned” about the privacy and security of pictures of their children, while 58% of moms wish there were more security and privacy options built into kids’ devices, according to research from Wunderman Thompson Data.

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Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

The risks to privacy start nearly at birth; in the United States, 92% of children aged two or younger have an online presence, according to security company AVG, because of “sharenting”—millennial parents sharing pictures on social media—leading to complexities when it comes to children’s right to privacy.

Lawmakers are attempting to get a handle on this changing state of digital connectivity by revisiting the 20-year-old Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The new version could include a stipulation that would let parents erase the data that companies have on their kids and extend the age of those protected by the act from 13 to 15.

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Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

“All this data makes kids uniquely valuable to companies and adds to their digital footprint, which can extend beyond parents’ control,” Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of non-profit Common Sense Media, argued at a US Senate committee hearing on data privacy for consumers, reported Fast Company. “Kids’ information will live on for longer than we know and could impact education and employment opportunities, healthcare access and exposure to identity theft.”

In the past year alone, TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance, along with Google and YouTube, was fined for violating COPPA by selling young users’ data to third-party advertisers.

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Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

Tech giants are still navigating how to put parents at ease when it comes to their child’s digital footprint. Amazon’s answer has been to create a “safe space in a walled garden” across the kid-friendly versions of its smart devices. Its YouTube alternative Free Time is a curated subscription service with ad-free child-focused content and in September 2019, Amazon added new privacy features to its Echo Dot Kids Edition after it faced two lawsuits.

Facebook’s Messenger Kids tweaked its parental controls in February 2020 to help adults more easily manage their child’s privacy on the app, and updated its privacy policy to include more kid-friendly language and illustrations—but TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez cautioned “the policy leaves plenty of room for Facebook to collect private information and share it. If you have a Facebook account, you’ve already agreed to this sort of ‘deal with the devil’ for yourself in order to benefit from Facebook’s free service. But parents need to strongly consider if they’re comfortable making the same decision for their children.”

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Yoto
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Some companies have built their entire concept around privacy first. London-based Yoto recently teamed up with design studio Pentagram to release an audio player that promises to put “kids in control” by foregoing the camera, microphone and ads altogether, instead running on tactile NFC-enabled cards.

As parents address the labyrinth of privacy for children, brands are starting to consider the implications to kids’ data. After all, as Steyer points out, children “lag behind adults in conceptualizing privacy, comprehending online data ecosystems, understanding terms of service and recognizing ads,” meaning it will ultimately be up to parents to demand that brands create a privacy safety net for generation alpha.

This article is adapted from The Privacy Era. Download the full report for more.

Main image courtesy of Yoto.