Age restrictions and privacy policies protect youth

by Sue Scheff:

Both age restrictions and privacy policies are put in place for our protection and the protection of the young.

The issue:

• A PEW Research poll recently found that half of Americans who spend time online don’t know what a privacy policy is.

• Parents are allowing tweens to join social media sites when they are clearly not of age.

The confusion:

Most privacy policies are written in terminology that the average person is not able to comprehend or interpret.

“Other researchers have found that people do not read privacy policies — they’re unreadable. They are filled with jargon that is meant to be understandable only to the people writing them, or to people who work in the advertising industry today. Words like ‘affiliate’: nobody outside of the digital marketing industry knows what that means.”

Joseph Turow, who conducted the PEW poll, said: “Many people don’t actually read privacy policies; they simply look at the label,” says Turow. “And the intuitive understanding — the cultural understanding — of the label is that when something says ‘privacy policy,’ it protects your privacy.”

The question:

If some parents are lacking in privacy policy understanding, is that an excuse not to respect age restrictions on social media sites?

According to recent research by KidSay, tweens’ (kids ages 8-11) number one website is YouTube. This report also found that 93% of tweens use YouTube and 69% claim to have an account.

The concern with this is that according to their Safety Center — which is designed to protect your children — you must be 13 years old to have a YouTube account. Last summer, there were rumors that YouTube was considering offering accounts to kids under 13. I think it would be beneficial since we know the kids are there already — and hopefully it could have tighter and safer parameters for them.

In the meantime, parents need to be cautious of the hidden dangers that lurk on YouTube, like the discovery of fake online pharmacies and cyber-criminals selling credit cards. Both of these issues are considered cyber-crimes that, until YouTube becomes kid-friendly, your tweens could be exposed to.

The giant jumps on board:

It was recently announced that Google will be revamping its’ products for tweens and younger. Google, being the number one search engine, has a responsibility to our kids.

Will you be ready to understand exactly what they are offering? Many may recall the debacle of Google Apps for Education when it was uncovered that many students’ confidential information was at risk. Only recently did Google stop this marketing tactic.

Pavni Diwanji, vice president of engineering at Google, says she understands those concerns, but adds that as a parent she “is a big believer in coaching moments for kids, rather than just blocking what they can do. I want to enable trust in them. Thirteen isn’t some magical number. I want to teach them what’s right and wrong, and bring families together using technology.”

I agree, however children are not always aware when their information is being used for unintended purposes — such as marketing for potential advertisers. If adults are having a difficult time understanding privacy policies, it is safe to assume a child won’t be able to understand them either.

Online safety for all ages:

In reality most websites, social media sites and networking sites have terms of service, a code of conduct and privacy policies. Listed in them you will have age restrictions. As more and more young children become cyber-savvy at younger ages, I believe it is great news that giants like Google will work towards fitting the needs of this audience.

Until then parents, grandparents and guardians need to understand that age restrictions are in place to protect your child. You may believe your child is ready for Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr or my latest favorite — EllenTube — but they all clearly state ages 13 years and up and your child may not be ready for what they could encounter on sites without age-appropriate limitations. Tumblr’s terms of service is my favorite:
Takeaway tips:

• Web IQ: How much do you know about the web and digital technology? Take the quiz from PEW Research.

• Take the family online safety survey from Digital Citizen’s Alliance.

• Double check your privacy settings on all your social media sites, regularly.

• Privacy policies are confusing, but start taking the time to understand them.

• No one is above the law, keep that in mind when you allow a tween on a site that requires them to lie about their age.