ICO blog: Apps, games and social media: why we’re educating children on the value of their personal information

A report published this week that proposed rules to protect children when using mobile phone gaming apps was welcomed by the ICO.

We were particularly pleased to see our contribution to the Office of Fair Trading project reflected in the second principle, that proposes developers make clear how and why their app is collecting personal data.

It’s an important area, and one acknowledged at an international conference for data protection commissioners in Warsaw this week. Two days of the event were dedicated to what it called “the appification of society”, with a clear conclusion that users must be told what personal data an app is recording.

Again, that’s something we’d welcome, but while an adult can read that information and then make a considered view of whether to download the software, can we expect our children to take the same considered approach?

Take the use of social media by teenagers as an example. An ICO survey found that 9 out of 10 secondary school pupils use these sites, but 60 per cent haven’t read the site’s privacy policy. Indeed, a third didn’t even know what the privacy policy was. Explanations of how personal information is used are of limited value if they’re not read or understood.

So what are we doing about it? There’s ongoing work around guidance for app developers, and that’s likely to be an area we see a lot of progress in as the industry continues to grow. But another area we’re focussing on is on better educating children on the value of their own personal information.

At the beginning of the year, we commissioned a set of lesson plans to bring this issue into the classroom. The lessons are broader than apps or Facebook, focussing on the fundamental principles of looking after personal information and seeing the value of it.

There are nine lesson plans – five for primary schools, four for secondary – all of which have been tested at schools across the country. They’ve been available since August, and we’ve already seen almost 4,000 downloaded.

We’re now working hard to promote those lesson plans further to teachers. This week we were speaking to teachers at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow, and we’ll be at similar events in the future. We’ve also contributed to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee consultation on online safety.

We are convinced that the education of children about these issues is crucial. Be it through the continued popularity of apps or the ubiquity of social media, our personal data has never been more in-demand. Teaching children the value of that data gives them the informational self-defence they need, not just as children, but as they become adults too.

Robert ParkerRobert Parker’s department is responsible for providing effective internal and external communications for the ICO, corporate and business planning, risk management and internal audit.
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