BBB National Programs Insights
How to Protect Children’s Privacy Beyond Parental Controls
Children’s privacy is a hot topic in the media these days. It may seem like a new concern but we at the BBB National Programs’ Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) have been keeping an eye on it since the beginning.
CARU was established decades ago to promote responsible advertising to children at a time when advertising was mainly on television. The self-regulatory program and its guidelines were designed to adapt to changes in the marketing and media landscape – offline and online - so when concerns about online data collection practices arose, CARU was able to get a jump on it even before lawmakers could pass the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in 1998.
Fast forward to 2020—CARU is even more involved in the privacy space. As a not-for-profit program that doesn’t have to focus on a bottom line, CARU has a unique educational perspective from which to view children’s privacy.
With all its experience in the children’s space, CARU believes that the most important tool in protecting children’s privacy is educating children, and doing so as early as possible. Part and parcel to educating children is acknowledging the reality that they may be more advanced than their parents and teachers in their use of technology. The media and academics focus on restricting screen time, employing parental controls, and even tools to spy on your kids. The problem with these solutions is that smartphones and the Internet are not something children will grow out of but something they must grow into because, in today’s world, technology is unavoidable and permanent.
These types of solutions also don’t take into account that children are great communicators and they learn how to get around controls. They can also teach other kids how to get around controls, so you can’t keep your children’s data safe by attempting to control their access to online content alone.
While the idea of not giving children a smartphone until they graduate from high school is tempting, the reality is that their schools, extracurricular activities, and friends will all expect them to communicate via a device. Most teachers in high school use some form of online system or app to communicate with students about assignments. Many use social media groups to organize afterschool activities. Some teachers require the use of a device to do homework assignments.
Since they will have a smartphone sooner or later, they need to learn early that their online presence is a thing of value and one that they can— and should—protect and control.