When we think about the privacy risks that youth face online, we tend to think in terms of teens and tweens oversharing on cell phones and social networks. Increasingly, though, children are facing privacy issues younger and younger: according to a 2014 study from the UK, kids aged 13-14 said they were eight and a half years old when they first went online, kids aged 11-12 said they were eight and kids aged nine to ten said they had gone online when they were just six years old. A recent study found that almost one in four U.S. children under the age of two use tablets or smartphones, and MediaSmarts’ Young Canadians in a Wired World survey found that almost a third of students in grades 4 to 6 have a Facebook account.
What’s more, children – and parents – don’t necessarily know about the privacy issues that they face online. All but one of Canadian children’s favourite sites contain commercial content or advertising and the vast majority of them have a variety of ways of gathering and collecting personal information, whether it’s by asking users to log in with a social networking account or tracking what they do and where they go. As well as those methods for gathering data, many websites that are aimed at kids also solicit personal information in a variety of ways: some require children to register before they can access premium content, while others encourage kids to submit their personal information – or their friends’ – through contests and surveys. (As well as doing it themselves, many of these sites also host advertising material that solicits personal information.) Many virtual worlds that are popular with younger children act as “starter social networks,” giving kids the opportunity to upload creative content and socialize with each other, raising the question of what information can safely be given out and what should be withheld. Additionally, more and more Canadian kids are accessing the Internet through mobile devices and because nearly all of these devices – such as cellphones, tablets and laptops – now have cameras in them, more kids are able to post photos and videos online at younger ages.
What all of this means is that as parents we have a responsibility to teach our kids about how to manage their privacy when they are online. Contrary to what a lot of people think, kids do care about privacy: MediaSmarts’ research has found that while they do take active steps to control who sees the content they post, they still would like more control over who collects their personal information and want to learn more about how to manage their privacy.
All of these factors mean that for even very young children, privacy education must go beyond “don’t talk to strangers”; kids today need to be taught how to safely and responsibly judge and manage their and others’ privacy in a wide range of contexts.
To help parents teach their kids these important skills, MediaSmarts is bringing our popular educational game Privacy Pirates to mobile platforms. Aimed at children ages seven to nine, Privacy Pirates teaches kids that their personal information is valuable and that they should be careful about when and with whom they share it. To download this newest version visit: http://mediasmarts.ca/game/privacy-pirates-interactive-unit-online-privacy-ages-7-9.
Privacy Pirates was originally developed in 2011 with funding from Google Canada. The updated mobile versions were made possible by financial assistance from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
 Sonia Livingstone et al. Net Children Go Mobile: The UK Report. EU Kids Online, July 2014.
 Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013. Common Sense Media, Fall 2013.
 Steeves, Valerie. Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Life Online. MediaSmarts, 2014.