How sharing your children’s private lives online could ruin their future autonomy

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Candice works in the fields of applied Information and Business Ethics; holds a master’s degree in Workplace Ethics and an honours degree in Psychology. Special interests include Privacy, the Protection of Personal Information, and Information Security.

Here she shares 5 steps to protect your child's online presence. 

Parents can be their children’s worst online enemies. We all see it and most of us do it: Parents and grandparents share their children’s private lives (e.g. developmental milestones, health problems, or social issues etc.) on social media or log it into apps without thinking twice. These are good, well-intentioned parents who don’t realise they are doing a bad thing.

I am a parent, and I know how important it is to share our fears, insecurities, and questions with other parents and how much we want to show off with our sprogs to those around us.

But there is a very big difference between doing this in the physical world where we share information with individuals, and doing it in the digital world where it feels like we are sharing information with people, but actually, we are sharing it with companies.

Also read: 'Hurt and concerned': Michelle Gildenhuys claps back at 'haters'

These companies can sell or share the information with others who collect information from multiple sources to match, merge and link whatever is available until they can create detailed personal profiles of individuals.

What is so bad about this?

The answer is simple: Big data is big psychology.

The more information companies have about your child, the easier it becomes for them to predict and (attempt to) modify your child’s behaviour later in life.

This is not science fiction.

There are simple real-world reasons for wanting to predict and modify behaviour: for governments to stop acts of terror or influence voting patterns; for recruitment firms to automatically match people to positions; and for marketing campaigns to change people’s shopping habits, and more. We had a taste of this in the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Also read: YouTube's violation of child privacy laws reinforces the importance of online safety tips like these

Freedom of thought

The more information about your child is available online, the more pressure they might face through targeted newsfeeds, search results and adverts to change their behaviour or opinions throughout their life.

Their minds could become puppets to other people’s profits.

You might not be able to control what your children share online, but you can improve their chances to have freedom of thought and opinion by limiting what you share online, by following these steps:

1. Avoid social media

Find other creative ways to share highlights with friends and family who are genuinely invested in your child’s life without using social media.

2. Read the Ts&Cs 

Find out how your child’s personal information will be protected on the sites or apps you use by reading the terms of service.

Know that the Protection of Personal Information Act (“POPIA”) will not protect South Africans from companies that are not based in South Africa.

3. Information is confidential

Treat your child’s physical or psychological information as confidential and ask for advice from people you know and trust, or from professionals instead of social media groups.  

4. Just say no

Withhold your consent when other people (schools / extramural service providers) ask to share information about or photos of your child online.

5. Know your rights

Once the Protection of Personal Information Act is fully in effect you will have to consent the processing of your child’s personal information by South African entities until they are 18 years of age. Ensure that you have detailed enough information to make an informed decision about consent.

How do you protect your children online? Let us know.

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Read more: 

5 things teens need to know about cybersecurity

Most parents have never heard of TikTok. That’s by design

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