Shady harvesting of your children’s data through mobile apps

A recent report from Reset Australia collated the confusing terms of use that often have esteemed university graduates grappling to decode. Popular social media platforms including Tik Rok, Instagram and Snapchat are ranked based on a minor’s ability to understand the Terms and Conditions. This includes all appps of video streaming, online gaming, messaging, and social media services. Analysing the use of language, design, and dark patterns, which nudge people towards specific decisions. Collaborating with YouGov, 400 minors were polled revealing just 7% being confident they understood the terms and conditions they accepted, and just 4% read them.

The report, Did we really consent to this? Terms & Conditions and young people’s data, scored each platform out of 5 stars. An intervention to assit young people to be able to make an informed choice while bringing more awareness in recognising their data rights.

On reading the report, Elizabeth Handsley, professor of law at Western Sydney University and president of Australian Council on Children and the Media, said: “It’s not too hard to simplify terms and conditions, and we shouldn’t accept overly complex ones as the price we pay for free platforms and services. She further added that in this day and age it is possible to “create an internet where the rights, needs, and interests of children are properly recognised and attended to”.

“It’s nearly impossible for kids to opt out of data collection. Complex and opaque Terms and Conditions mean young people have even less opportunity to meaningfully consent to how their data is collected and used.” said Rys Farthing, Reset Australia’s Children’s Data Policy Director. “These apps are designed to be easy for young people to use, but when it comes to disclosing how data will be collected and stored, suddenly they become very difficult to understand. ‘Dark patterns’ are nudging kids to agree to terms and conditions, without making any effort to explain them coherently.”

Reset Australia, which advocates against digital harms, found the Ts and Cs of nine of the 10 surveyed apps required a tertiary level reading age, and on average would take one hour and 46 minutes to read. 

“To put this into perspective, Tik Tok’s terms and conditions run the length of two novels, or about 6 hours of reading at a university level. If all two billion people who use TikTok read the full terms and conditions, it would take 1.24 million years of effort,” Dr Farthing said. “Social media and digital services often don’t respect children’s privacy or rights. We shouldn’t leave it up to tech companies to decide what they can and can’t do – we need some ground rules so they’re compelled to prioritise children’s rights,” Dr Farthing said.  “Australia needs a regulatory code governing how children and young people’s data is collected and used. Other countries have already implemented or proposed similar codes, including the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code, and Ireland’s Fundamentals for a Child-Oriented Approach to Data Processing.” 

The report’s rankings:

Instagram0.3 (out of 5)
Snapchat1 (out of 5)
Twitch0.3 (out of 5)
Twitter1.7 (out of 5) 
Google1.8 (out of 5)
Reddit1.8 (out of 5)
Epic Games2.5 (out of 5)
Stream1.7 (out of 5)
TikTok0 (out of 5)
Spotify0 (out of 5)

This study follows ReachOut Parents who published the new ‘Parents Guide to Instagram (download here)’ when research they found saw 38% of respondents (parents), unsure about the role they can play in keeping their teens safe on social media.

Jackie Hallan, Head of Service Delivery at ReachOut Parents, said that the guide is a practical tool to help parents navigate safety on Instagram with their teens.

“This new research shows that 32% of parents aren’t quite sure how to use the safety controls on social media and almost 40% of parents aren’t quite sure what they would do if their teen had a safety issue on social media.

“Based on these findings, it was not surprising that 40 percent of parents told us that they want more support to help them understand social media so that they can feel confident to talk to their teens about it.

Parents’ top 5 concerns about their teens’ use of social media: bullying, exposure to inappropriate content, unwanted contact or grooming, sexting or sharing nudes, and privacy concerns.

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