Life Tech Data harvesters are using TikTok and other apps to spy on our children
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Data harvesters are using TikTok and other apps to spy on our children

TikTok rated a shameful zero in the privacy survey. Photo: Getty
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Online privacy advocates are calling for legislation to protest children from privacy abuse by wildly popular apps such as Tik Tok, Instagram and Snapchat.

According to digital advocacy group Reset Australia, the terms of use for those same apps require tertiary level reading skills, and would take an average of one hour and 46 minutes to read.

Reset’s report, “Did we really consent to this?“, ranks the ease of understanding a minor could have reading the terms and conditions on 10 video streaming, online gaming, messaging, and social media services.

The report also analysed the use of language, design, and ‘dark patterns’, which propel people towards specific decisions.

With each platform scored out of 5 stars, the best result was 2.5 stars for Epic Games, with two platforms, Tik Tok and Spotify, scoring zero.

“These apps are designed to be easy for young people to use, but when it comes to disclosing how data will be collected and stored, suddenly they become very difficult to understand,” said Dr Rys Farthing, Reset Australia’s Children’s data policy director.

The apps nudge kids “to agree to terms and conditions, without making any effort to explain them coherently,”Mr Farthing said.

“To put this into perspective, Tik Tok’s terms and conditions run the length of two novels, or about six hours of reading at a university level,” Dr Farthing said.

Working with YouGov, Reset polled 400 16- and 17-year-olds and found only seven per cent were confident they understood the terms and conditions they have “accepted”, and only four per cent read them all the time.

On reading the report, law professor Elizabeth Handsley, president of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, said the industry should be made to act in the public interest.

The best interests of children

“We can create an internet where the rights, needs, and interests of children are properly recognised and attended to,” Professor Handsley said.

Reset Australia is calling for a data code for children and young people under 18 years old, so their data is only collected and processed in ways that are in their best interests.

Other countries have already implemented or proposed similar codes, including the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code and Ireland’s Fundamentals for a Child-Oriented Approach to Data Processing.

“Social media and digital services often don’t respect children’s privacy or rights. We shouldn’t leave it up to tech companies to decide what they can and can’t do – we need some ground rules so they’re compelled to prioritise children’s rights,” Dr Farthing said.

Reset Australia’s website describes “rampant and unregulated” data collection as “surveillance capitalism at work … that provides intimate insights sold to the highest bidder, with next-to-no awareness or control”.

-with AAP