“Incomprehensible” terms and conditions of social networks mean children have little idea what they are signing up to, the Children’s Commissioner has warned.
As she publishes a year-long study into children and the internet, Anne Longfield said youngsters were left to “fend for themselves in the digital world”.
She said government should teach children “digital citizenship” from the age of four as part of the curriculum, and that children should have a digital ombudsman to help them remove content from social media companies.
Ms Longfield told Sky News: “The internet is an extraordinary good. But it’s developed very fast and it’s developed in a very disorganised way.
“It wasn’t developed for children, although children are some of its biggest users.”
Children are spending more time than ever online. According to OFCOM, three and four-year-olds now spend eight hours and 18 minutes a week online, 12 to 15-year-olds spend more than 20 hours and 70% of them have a social media profile.
Sky News asked five pupils at Magna Carta School in Surrey about the terms and conditions of social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp.
None of them had ever read the terms and conditions to a social network.
When encouraged to by Sky News, they were surprised at what they had already agreed to.
Shaniya Neta, who is 15, said: “It’s kind of cheating you. It’s almost lying in a way, because it’s hiding it so you don’t know you’re signing up to.”
Eleanor Smith, 14, told Sky News: “They should write the terms and conditions to suit the people using it. Like Snapchat – it’s targeted towards a younger generation.
“But because it’s so hidden what they’re actually saying, you just press accept.”
All the pupils wanted the terms of services to be made clearer, but said they would probably still use social media.
Sam Hartshom, 14, told Sky News: “I still think it’s safe enough, I think you can just about trust these companies enough, so long as you use them correctly and not expose yourself too much, you should be fine.”
In 2018, a new EU law, the General Data Protection Regulation, will force technology companies to spell out how they use people’s data much more clearly.
The UK government has said it will implement the regulation, regardless of Brexit.
Pam Cowburn, communications director for the Open Rights Group, told Sky News: “Generally we’re not aware of the levels of processing, whether information can be shared and sold on to advertisers, information may be stripped of some personal information and passed on without our knowing.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The internet has given children and young people fantastic opportunities, but protecting them from risks they might face online or on their phones is vital.
“The UK is a world leader in internet safety, but there is more to do, and we will carefully consider this report as part of our ongoing work to make the internet a safer place for children.”[“source-ndtv”]