It is the most boring of reading — those “terms and conditions” that come up before your child can even set up an app or call up a website. Many of us scroll down in our haste to set up the kids and get them ready to play, neglecting to give that section of text even a cursory glance.
But if someone isn’t reading this legalese, your child could be giving away some very important privacy rights each time they click “agree.”
“Tell kids never to share birthdays, addresses and school names,” said one expert.
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Here is what you need to know: Social media sites have many terms and conditions, and that’s putting it lightly. Sites such as Instagram and Facebook have pages of terms and conditions. As a result, many adults — let alone the kids — never read them. They just click “accept” and move on to posting pictures of themselves, their meals and their pets, not realizing that their social media site of choice might now own their personal information and could sell it to the highest bidder. Some apps can even track your child’s physical location.
“The internet is an extraordinary force for good but it is not designed with children in mind,” said the U.K. children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, in her January 2017 report entitled, “Growing Up Digital.” Longfield’s office did a year-long study on children and social media and found that, among other things, most children agreed to “terms and conditions” without having read the material.
A 13-year-old girl told study researchers the information was “boring.” When asked what he had understood about his privacy rights, a 15-year-old boy said he did not know “due to the sheer amount of writing and the lack of clarity within the document.”
Longfield is now calling for an ombudsman to mediate between minors and social media companies. She also recommends simplified terms and conditions for digital services offered to children, on top of a new school program to educate students about the internet.
Scott Steinberg, author of the new book, “Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World,” agrees it is important to be cognizant of who is able to access your personal information and under what terms it might be shared.
“It is critical to help kids understand that online spaces are some of the most wide and public spaces you can imagine,” Steinberg told LifeZette. “In the same way that you would not let kids off into a subway unprepared or unguided, you really wouldn’t want to do the same, letting them off into the wilds of the internet.”
Steinberg recommends that parents have conversations with their children about what information is safe, or not, to be put on the web.
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“Tell them never to share birthdays, addresses and school names,” he explained. “Talk with them about turning off geolocation services, and why people should not mention when and where they plan to visit a location.”
Passing along The Golden Rule is also recommended. “Show empathy, show respect and think twice about the things being posted,” Steinberg said “Anything can go public and live forever online.”
People of all ages, should reflect on what they’re putting on the internet and think about how it may be perceived, he said.
Anne Longfield’s report indicates that children must accept the following just to use an app:
- waiving the right to fundamental privacy
- knowing that the app has tracking abilities, even when it is not in use
- understanding that the app may buy and sell one’s personal data
- the changing of terms by the app company at any time without notice
- the terminating of an account at the app company’s sole discretion
Most parents have little-to-no understanding of these and other conditions, and need to take the time to understand what they’ve gotten into before sharing do’s and don’ts with their kids.
“I’m not an attorney, so I can’t speak on recommendations from the U.K., but it is a topic that we need to be aware of,” said Scott Steinberg. “We’re in such a rush to put devices in children’s hands — even though they have precious little training and background in how to use them effectively.”
If you aren’t reading those terms and conditions — you aren’t alone.
“If you were to talk to most people, you would find the percentage who had actually read through their agreements would be perilously low,” he said. “The reality is we’re all too quick to sign up for accounts and services, and we trade away our privacy without realizing what we’ve done.”
Chris Woodward is a reporter for American Family News and OneNewsNow.com. Based in Mississippi, he is also a contributor to OneMillionDads.com and EngageMagazine.net.