Law in the Internet Society

Teach Your Children Well: Creating a New Data Literacy via Educational Intervention

-- By AlisonRobins - 23 Dec 2020

By teaching children about data privacy, we can create a world in which data mining and other common practices under surveillance capitalism have no choice but to die out. The problem is with the adults in charge who are illiterate about data privacy.

Why children? While everyone in a democracy has the right to learn, in actuality, adults and children learn differently. Children approach learning from a broad perspective, welcoming new topics, while adults close themselves off in order to be experts in their chosen fields. Children are more flexible to adopting an entirely different world view and can demand a political and legal agenda that accounts for true data privacy (similar to the shift led by the youth on gun control).

I. The Monster in the House

A. COPPA's Failures

The legal framework for protecting children online is insufficient. Congress intended the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to protect the “personal information” of children thirteen years old or younger online. However, it did not account for rampant behavioral data mining practices. Even in 2010, scholars saw COPPA as an ineffective measure for protecting children on social media. The assumed privacy concern was children giving up their own information voluntarily; that swiftly became usurped by cookies, behavior tracking, and targeted advertisements.

i. A Lack of Checks

COPPA's failures are tied to legislators' na´vetÚ concerning data privacy. Many of the restrictions rely on children accurately reporting their ages online, which they do not. Age verification is useless, even more so when one considers that the only way to fortify it would be to encourage children to throw more personal information (perhaps a birth certificate) onto the fire as a safety measure.

Violating COPPA has incredibly low-grade consequences. Should a company violate a child's privacy online in the United States, it faces but a five-figure fine. To companies like Google or Facebook, this is nothing.

ii. Insufficiency of Reforming COPPA

The Senate introduced an applicable bill: the Do Not Track Kids Act. But, it advocates for personal consent before collecting data. The point should not be to allow companies to seize your data, but rather that such seizure should be seen as an infringement of a right that cannot be contract[-of-adhesion]ed away. A newer House bill-- Preventing Real Online Threats Endangering Children Today Act--would extend COPPA protections to children up to age sixteen and cover geolocation and biometric data. This is a better step, but an insufficient one. Government needs to completely rethink how it looks at online safety, but does not have the knowledge base to do so.

B. The Political Inability to Legislate What You Do Not Understand

COPPA's failure is tied to misunderstanding the threat. Legislation is caked in the idea of asking users for consent to use data, which begs the question that mining a user's personal data and behavior is something to which a person may consent. Yet, "consumers are unaware of the broad and sweeping control that a website may have over their personal information" and have no idea to what they consent.

One must only think back to the 2018 Facebook Congressional hearing to understand the incompetency of our legislators' technological intellect. So much time was wasted by lawmakers with no idea how lucrative data mining can be ("Senator, we run ads."). We have a political economy in which tech companies have free rein from a government with no checks. Child advocacy already suffers from the inability of its subjects to protect themselves; what is to come when those tasked with protecting children cannot see the monster?

C. Investing in Data Privacy Education

i. Virtual School and Privacy Violations

A large portion of children are learning via online platforms, and there is little recourse for their privacy concerns. Schools provide hardware and software for education, and under COPPA, "schools can consent on behalf of parents to the collection of student personal information by educational technology services," meaning that the decision-maker on data privacy is now two degrees removed from the affected party. When schools, needing to move swiftly, cannot check how safe these devices and programs are, they essentially hand over personal data that they should have no right to concede. If students had a knowledge basis for their own privacy rights, they would not have to rely solely on parents and educators for advocacy. They could instead assert their own rights and demand software that does not make them a product.

ii. The Harm of Teaching Data Invasion as a Way of Life

Without curricula that empowers children to assert their privacy rights online, we teach them to accept data mining as a fact of life. When children must have a camera into their home on constantly and are penalized for the slightest misbehavior in the privacy of their home, we create “a kind of digital panopticon” that regulates the private sphere. Public schools do not just teach math and literature, but also civic duty. You cannot have a democracy that regulates its citizens within their own homes purely because it is the most convenient option for technologically-lacking educators. . If educators and lawmakers do not have the time or resources to learn, then give children a starting point and see their curiosity develop solutions.

II. Conclusion

This all assumes that ensuring true data privacy can wait for children to mature into enfranchised citizens. Some argue that this current generation of adults controls the point of no return, and this tactic pushes off a solution onto the next generation. Yet, when you factor in the amount of time it would take to either elect a congressional majority that understands the importance of data privacy or effectively educate sitting members, I wager you end up with a similar timeline to providing education for children who internalize the values and go beyond its teachings. Plus, education can be done without federal action, allowing swifter action overall in the long term.


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r4 - 23 Dec 2020 - 20:29:05 - AlisonRobins
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