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Data Protection Day – How safe is the information we share online?

Tomorrow (Saturday 28th January) is Data Protection Day, an internationally-recognised annual event aimed at raising awareness of data protection and promoting online privacy, particularly on social media.

Data protection is an important issue for everyone, but with one third of internet users being under the age of 18 the focus of many recent studies has been on safeguarding children from encountering harm online.

“Although an increasing number of parents grew up with access to the internet, the generational divide is still apparent between parents and their children,” according to a recent report published by The Children’s Commissioner, ‘Growing Up Digital’. This report includes an analysis of a survey carried out on Mumsnet, in which 49% of parents claimed they were worried their child was oversharing personal information on the internet.

Data protection rights are not taught in schools until students reach GCSE level, and The Children’s Commissioner believes the current computing curriculum is too narrow and “often too late”. The report aims to highlight this by exploring how fully children understand their rights when it comes to social media.

Instagram, a photo-sharing social media application, is used by 56% of 12-15 year olds and 43% of 8-11 year olds who have a social media account, according to Ofcom. The Terms and Conditions for Instagram are currently outlined in 5,000 words set over 17 pages, “with language and sentence structure only a postgraduate could be expected to understand,” the report cites.

The Children’s Commissioner asked a group of young people to read through Instagram’s Terms and Conditions and found that, after 20 minutes of reading, the 13 year olds had only made it halfway through the text and “were begging to be allowed to stop”.

This news should come as no surprise; even as adults we are often guilty of overlooking Terms and Conditions – after all, we expect our privacy to be the priority for large companies such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, who hold so much of our personal data. However, the Commissioner’s report states that by accepting these companies’ Terms and Conditions, we are agreeing to:

  • Waiving our fundamental privacy
  • Allowing the app to track us, even when not in use
  • Personal data being purchased and sold
  • The terms changing at any time without notice
  • The app holding the right to terminate our account at its sole discretion

These conditions are worrying enough, yet perhaps more concerning is the fact Terms and Conditions are largely the same across all social media platforms. In bypassing the “boring” task of reading these contracts and rushing through to click on ‘Agree’, we are signing away the right to our personal security. If we turn a blind eye to this as adults, how can we expect our children to pay attention?

The Commissioner’s report calls for a restructure of Terms and Conditions, to make them more accessible for children to read and understand. The full report can be read here.

We know that your students’ safety is top priority, so why not use Data Protection Day as an opportunity to bring awareness of online privacy into the classroom?