Children, Parents and Teachers Unaware of Educational Apps Collecting Data on Children

A new report has found that millions of students had their personal data collected and online behaviors tracked by websites, applications and other educational programs. The programs did not have the student-users’ consent and in some cases allow third-party companies like advertisers access to the data.

International advocacy organization Human Rights Watch published their findings from an investigation they completed between March 2021 and August 2021. The investigation examined educational services that students, world-wide, used when learning went all online.

Human Rights Watch investigated 164 products used in 49 countries. They found 146 of them (89%) appeared to be engaging in data practices that infringed or even risked children’s rights. These practices included activity like monitoring or monitoring children without the students ‘or parents’ consent, the collected a range of personal data like identity, location, online activity and behavior and even information about family and friends.

HRW stated that children, parents and teachers were largely unaware of the risky behavior. However, they wanted to emphasize that even if anyone had been aware they likely would have had little choice but to use the apps as it was either log-on or be marked absent.

New Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Kids on Social Media Introduced

The Kids Online Safety Act, new bipartisan legislation, introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R), its intent is to help stop the potentially dangerous impacts of social media on children. It would target how social media platforms handle content on issues like eating disorders, suicide, and substance abuse.

Sen. Blumenthal stated that “Big Teach has brazenly failed children and betrayed its trust, putting profits above safety.”

The legislation would create specific responsibilities that social media platforms must comply with to protect children from sexual exploitation and the promotion of things like alcohol or gambling in addition to “rabbit holes of dangerous material.” All of this according to a fact sheet released by lawmakers.

The new bill would require that settings for families that would help parents protect children from harmful content. It would give parents tools to control children’s online purchases and help curb app addiction. These settings would have to be enabled by default.

The new legislation would also require social media platforms to release annual third-party audits on the risk level of their platform to minors. It would also oblige platforms to release their data to independent researchers or academics so they can study the impacts of the platforms on young people.

 

Google Creates New System to Help Parents and Minors Remove Pictures of Children

Google has put in place a system to help parents and minors to have photos of the minors deleted from public search results.

In a blog post the company said the tool will let parents and children under 18 to request photos be removed from an “image search” result list and from search thumbnails.

Google had previously offered people a method for requesting the removal of any image or information that were considered: financial, non-consensual explicit, national or medical ID. It is now simply extending that system to images of minors.

The company stated in the blog post that they understand that children face unique challenges navigating the online world when a picture of them becomes available on the internet. The company said they wanted to give young people more control their digital footprint.

Users will be able to flag URLs that lead to pictures they want removed. A team of human reviewers will go over each submission and contact the user they need additional information. The company did state very specifically they won’t remove an image from the internet entirely. The administrator of the website hosting the photo will have to be contacted to have the image removed entirely. The system only stops users from finding the photos directly through Google.

 

 

 

Instagram Puts Brakes on Instagram for Kids

Facebook’s Instagram social media platform is pausing development of a new version of Instagram for children under 13 amidst pressure from lawmakers as they had questions about the impact such photo sharing platforms have on teen girls.

Instagram stated that they stand by the development of the app but will pause development. Their reasoning being it will give them a chance to work with parents, policymakers, and experts to listen to their concerns and to demonstrate the importance of developing the app.

This decision comes on the heels of a US Senate hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram and Mental Health Harms.” This hearing was inspired by a investigation by the Wall Street Journal investigation that delved into what Facebook knows about how Instagram affects teen users and their mental health.

Instagram acknowledged the investigation by the WSJ and admitted that people sometimes have “negative experiences,” but that the app also gives a voice to marginalized people and helps friends and family stay connected.

Instagram says they are working on some tools to address mental health issues. One includes a “Take a Break” feature that allows users to temporarily leave the platform and other users won’t be able to message them or comment on their posts. They also claimed they were working on parental controls for teens users over 13.

 

 

Facebook Doubles Down on Creating “Instagram Kids” Amid Criticisms

Despite concerns and criticisms from lawmakers and others, Facebook restated its intention to create a special Instagram platform just for children under 13 but also announced new updates to take care of concerns about the safety of young users on its social media platforms.

In one blog post Facebook claims it is developing the new platform to reduce the chances of children under 13 lying about their age to use the current Instagram platform. The new Instagram for kids, Facebook says, will allow parents and guardians to heavily manage their children’s use of the new platform.

Facebook wrote that kids this age are already online and using social media platforms and there simply isn’t yet a foolproof way to stop them. According to an internal memo obtained by BuzzFeed Instagram identified youth work as a priority.

Earlier this year 44 attorneys general signed a letter addressed to Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO) to scrap the Instagram for kids project. They cited concerns over privacy and mental health. Child safety groups and Congress expressed similar concerns just weeks before this letter.

Facebook and Instagram have made a lot of promises about safety with their new platform and reiterated steps they’ve taken to help protect young users on their existing platforms.