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Building a safe digital playground

"By 2023, the connected play space is expected to increase 200 per cent in the next five years to $18 billion dollars."

Ahead of the Consumers International Summit 2019 session 'Coming of Age in the digital playground', our Digital Expert Xanthe Couture explores the ways children can benefit from digital technology without the risks.  

Summit 2019 Hear from experts at our upcoming session - Coming of age in the digital playground Learn more

Child safety in the digital playground

We want to see a digital world that children and their care givers can trust. Where children feel safe online, whether it is playing with connected toys and games, finding information for school, watching videos and memes or interacting with friends and family on social media.  

Despite the benefits children gain from being online, such as learning and entertainment, these online spaces can also present risks including interactions with unknown strangers and exposure to harmful content. In addition, children's use of sites and agreement to unclear terms and conditions may also result in the collection of personal data including age, location, likes, dislikes or patterns of use, which is repackaged and sold on to a multi-layered ecosystem of advertisers and ad buyers.   

The design of digital platforms, from the auto-replay of videos to friendly pings of notifications, has been criticised for keeping children hooked on screens and enabling even more collection of data about them. This keeps the platforms in business but also raises persistent concerns around risks of hacking and ethical questions about the recording of play.

Unlike the physical playground, limited security exists online

Unlike a physical playground, there is no consistent approach to how these risks are managed across the globe. In many countries, there is limited data protection legislation and the privacy and security of everyone, including children, is at risk despite the fact the youngest of children are now commonly using private devices such as phones and tablets.

That is why we are bringing together our Members, experts and industry in the technology industry to look at ways we can make sure children get the benefits of digital technology, without the risks.    

We will be exploring these issues at our session, ‘Coming of Age in the digital playground’ at the Consumers International Summit 2019 in Estoril, Portugal.

Consumer organisations have already taken action to improve the digital environment for children. We created a Buggle Baby Monitor video in partnership with ISOC and our members including the Norwegian Consumer Council exposed the risks that insecure connected products pose to children.

Last year, G20 Digital Ministers recognise our call to urgently improve security, data protection and privacy features of connected products and services that are marketed for or at children. We’ve also launched a practical checklist for retailers who want to do the right thing and make their toys and services safe, prevent data breaches and give consumers control over how their data is used and shared.  

On a bigger stage, we are working with the international standards organisation on a new ISO standard for Privacy by Design for connected products which will include products that children use.  

Taking back control and ensuring safety for all users online

But there is more to be done and the work of consumer organisations in this space is only beginning.

Due to the growing list of lax data protection and hacks in children’s toys, software, apps and games such as My Friend Cayla, i-Que toys, CloudPets and Vtech monitors, more needs to be done.

As adults, we have more chance of taking control of how our data is used and collected, and agency to choose when we want to have digital downtime or switch off notifications. Equally, as adults, we also have the ability to decide the kind of digital world we want children to experience as they grow.

We are continuing to look for answers in this complex space and the discussion will continue at our Summit this May. Join us in exploring how best to develop solutions that support and empower children in the age of ubiquitous technology.