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By Terry McQuay, CIPP, CIPP/C

Children's Privacy

On June 4, 2008 the federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners of Canada issued a joint resolution expressing their commitment to improve online privacy for children and young people. The commissioners noted that:

  • social networking sites, Internet email and text messaging are an integral part of youth life;
  • young people:

          o do not understand how permanent information posted on a Web site can be; and
          o post information with the impression that it is private.

  • online information can be accessed by numerous sources:

          o companies and schools are using social networking sites to check up on potential employees and students;
          o email addresses, personal profile details and Internet surfing patterns can be bought and sold by companies for marketing purposes.

  • young Canadians need to:

          o understand that new technologies can have a significant impact on their privacy; and
          o know what they can do to prevent others from accessing and using their information without permission.

  • privacy policies used by companies are often too complex for children to understand.

The commissioners will work together to increase online privacy awareness among children and youth though public education activities:  

  • They created a Web site (www.youthprivacy.ca) that:   

          o explains how technology can be used to monitor online behaviour, and:
                + explains how companies are able to access information and use it for marketing purposes.
          o provides a privacy quiz;
          o includes a blog that will be moderated and reviewed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada;
          o invites young people to enter a contest by creating their own ‘public service announcement' about privacy;
          o includes a special section for parents that outlines:
                + what social networking sites are;
                +  how they work; and
                + what privacy risks children face.

In addition, the commissioners:    

  • urged industry to adopt the highest standard of privacy possible when developing online environments targeted at children and young people;
  • want Web site operators to put more control features on their pages to help users limit access to information;
  • want governments to adopt tough standards when it comes to regulating companies that create Web sites targeted at children and teenagers;  
  • believe more public education is necessary so that young people know they can lodge complaints when their personal information has been mishandled; and
  • they need to work with Internet companies to improve the clarity of their privacy policies.

The Canadian commissioners expressed a desire to work with data protection regulators from other countries to ensure that children and young people around the world have access to a safe online environment respectful of their privacy.

Terry McQuay, CIPP, CIPP/C, is the Founder of Nymity, which offers Web-based privacy support to help organizations control their privacy risks. Learn more at www.nymity.com.

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