The adage “think before you speak” is a wise one. The same practice could be relevant to technology and social media platforms where more and more people can be seen airing their personal grievances, and/or personal opinions, status updates, and photos without giving privacy and its importance a second thought.
The birth of many social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok amongst others has paved the way for a new sport to be introduced – the race to be the first one to post anything online. Left unchecked, this race could be detrimental to the individual and their circle of family, friends, and colleagues, in the long run.
Oversharenting Is A Thing
An example of over eagerness to post can be seen in would-be parents where the tendency to share pictures of every ultrasound and trimesters as well as pregnancy shoots are posted for family and friends scattered around the world to admire them. While this is a sweet gesture, what these would-be parents fail to realise is these future parents who use pregnancy apps or share ultrasounds on social media can expect information about their children to be collected and sold to advertisers for profit.
Once a child is born, baby monitors enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and web-connected toys collect data from the cot. One leading expert, Donell Holloway, estimates that by a child’s 13th birthday, advertisers will have gathered on average more than 72 million data points about them. This data powers digital advertising that capitalises on information about peoples’ lives, habits and interests. If this doesn’t scare you into protecting yours’s and your children’s privacy, I don’t know what will.
Recently, Four Corners, which is Australia’s leading investigative program that airs on ABC channel joined hands with triple j Hack to expose how dangerous content is being served up on TikTok to unwitting users with sometimes devastating consequences.
TikTok presents an endless stream of short videos that viewers do not select, but which appear automatically as they scroll. It means that without any active selection, young people may be shown videos that are highly sexualised, endorse drug use, or are otherwise inappropriate. Like other social media platforms, TikTok collects a great deal of personal information, including phone numbers, videos, exact locations and biometric data. This is done without sufficient warning, transparency or meaningful consent – and without children or parents knowing how the information is used.
New Acts to Protect the Vulnerable
The Australian government is currently reviewing the Privacy Act (1988), which governs the collection and storage of personal information. There is also legislation currently being drafted and will soon be available for public consultation, which will focus specifically on social media platforms. Australia and other countries must grasp all opportunities to tighten protections for the collection and use of personal data, particularly of children.
Australia should follow the examples of the UK and Ireland. Both countries are implementing a “best interests” by default principle, which requires anyone collecting or using children’s data to do so in ways that benefit the child. This principle already exists in Australian family law and other policy areas.
As well as amending the Privacy Act, governments at all levels must also implement recommendations from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s recent Human Rights and Technology Report, including tighter regulation and oversight of corporate AI processes to ensure they do not impact human rights.
Big Data has the potential to benefit children, but the reality is that it can also create serious harm throughout their lifetimes. Australian governments must take responsibility for ensuring data is used ethically for all citizens. They must act to protect children’s safety and privacy, and ensure young people are not exploited by companies that profit from information about their lives, habits and interests.