The ‘sharent’ trap : How parents can be the biggest violators of their children’s digital privacy

Representative image of a parent taking a picture of her child   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

When Delhi-based Kavita Kataria, a budding mommy-blogger of GoodThingsGrow, recalls the moment she decided to create a dedicated Instagram account for her then-one year-old daughter Myrah, she explains, “I decided to make one on her first birthday. When she turned one, everyone called to wish but were complaining that they haven’t met her yet, saying that I should share more pictures and videos of her. So I thought, why not make an account for her and add friends and family?”

To help save data on her smartphone, the account became a means to keep record of her child’s journey as she grew up. “This way, not only will everyone see her life journey, but we will be able to see her grow on a single platform. It was a private account at first. Then, a few kids accounts contacted us to ask if they could feature her cute pictures on their page, so we made it public.”

Know your policy
  • While actually posting to social media is a freedom of expression, the usage of a child’s data can be stonewalled to an extent. In India, the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 still requires an effective gating system. The PDP Bill considers any person below the age of 18 a child, in line with Indian laws on the age of majority. And with ‘sharenting’ there is a clear loophole when the data is posted by an adult.
  • For reference, we can look at the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which affords some protection of children in the information industry, which introduces the so-called “right to erasure” or “right to be forgotten”. In January 2020, the UK ICO published an Age Appropriate Design Code, which is a set of 15 standards that online services should meet to protect children’s privacy.

But soon the account was pulled down and, in a panic, the young parent took to Facebook and asked her friends why this happened and if she could recover the account. There are no official statistics stating the number for this somewhat new breed of public parent-run social media accounts or ‘sharenting’ — where posts have a first-person narrative of the child.

Situations like this often trigger larger debates, touching on darker themes of over-exposure, exploitation and identity crises, citing parents to be the biggest violators of their children’s privacy. Age restriction is one aspect, but it is worth considering the actual choice of digital citizenship, and that children should be informed detailedly of what being on the Internet entails.

Power of choice

While it is quickly assumed that most children today are online natives, should they not decide for themselves if they have an online presence or an account? Kavita responds, “[If Myrah does not want an account], we will happily remove it. I am making this to treasure best memories of her for her, because, she will never have time to go through the tens of thousands of videos and pictures we take of her. But if she has any issues, then we will delete it.” Complications do arise as the child grows older, especially when consent has not been given.

Tara Bedi, Public Policy and Community Outreach Manager at Instagram, explains that the Facebook-owned platform is quite strict, and is quick to shut down accounts which do not comply with their Community Guidelines. “[Like TikTok, Facebook and YouTube], we require everyone on Instagram to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account. If someone sees an account that they think is run by someone under 13, they can report it to us. We will disable accounts we find that are run by people under 13 years old. We do allow parents or representatives, for example managers, to have an account representing someone who is under 13 as long as it is clear in the bio information that the account is run by the parent or representative.”

Turn to resources

There is a large amount of information available to parents, but these resources are not discussed as frequently as they should, given the rapidly changing digital space. Tara agrees, “This is why [Instagram] created a resource centre for parents, where they can access a host of resources, including a Parents Guide. We also [have] an Indian version of the guide in partnership with the Cyber Peace Foundation, Delhi, and ‘It’s Ok To Talk’, a mental health organisation, to support parents, as they help their children build healthy online habits, talk about powerful tools within Instagram that can help them filter bad comments and manage how much time they spend on the platform.”

A March 2016 study ‘When the Child is Born into the Internet: Sharenting as a Growing Trend among Parents on Facebook’ by Anna Brosch explains, “The most popular type of embarrassing pictures of children shows them nude or semi-nude. Of the 113 accounts [surveyed], 77.9% of the parents posted 411 photos of this kind. Admittedly, they were usually taken during bath or on the beach and basically concern children under three years of age, but even then they should not be exposed to public viewing.” Then there is the fear of that data getting into the wrong hands.

This does not apply to just Instagram; TikTok, YouTube and Facebook pages are densely populated with parent-run child accounts who also monetise on their content. Popular child accounts include the bank-breaking toy-reviewing Ryan’s World on YouTube and twin sisters Mila and Emma on Instagram. TikTok has numerous resources for parents, guiding them through privacy, commenting restrictions, restricting duets and digital well-being. YouTube and Google often hold offline discussion seminars about newer policies, as children’s safety became a priority for the platform last year.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 4:30:28 PM |

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