Lawmakers as well as parents are raising concerns about issues such as privacy and cyberbullying when it applies to underage Internet users. While it seems that these various interests agree that there are some serious problems that need to be addressed, the exact way that they should be solved is a major point of contention.
A number of those connected to the legal profession have suggested that additional legislation is necessary, largely because of the lack of parental oversight when it comes to dealing with digital technology. Though it's certainly true that some parents have had a rather hands-off approach, this might not be as common as initially reported in the popular press. According to one Pew Research study, 65 percent of parents have taken away their teens' devices as some form of punitive action.
Back and forth debates between these two positions is likely to define these issues for the foreseeable future.
The Parental Side of the Equation
Families have come up with a number of creative ways to address not only online privacy but also Internet addiction. The above mentioned study suggested that over half of parents now set limits on the amount of time that their teens are allowed to spend online. Doing so helps to reduce the risk of serious addiction while also cutting down on how much time they'd be permitted to use social media outlets, which tend to be the primary vectors for most bullying campaigns.
Others have begun to turn to parental control features as well as monitoring apps like Family Orbit. These enable them to set hard limits that are backed by a software permissions sheet, thus preventing even crafty youngsters from countermanding them. Proponents have pointed out that these tools have been successful without the need for government intervention.
So far, these solutions have worked relatively well, especially for parents who can't monitor their teens all of the time. Skeptics aren't entirely convinced, however. They point out that such tools could easily be misused and have even suggested that companies could potentially rely on them to collect information about young targets who they wouldn't otherwise be able to develop a profile on.
Targeting the Youngest of Internet Users
It's no secret that child safety issues have been used as a way to curtail certain privacy protections. Chances are that you've visited several sites that ask for your birthrate, which is ostensibly done to restrict underage access to certain resources. Once you've entered that information, however, there's nothing to stop organizations from using it for some other purpose. They could be collecting birth dates for age-related marketing analysis and few people would ever sound an alarm because it's being done in the name of child safety.
This is a relatively mild example, but it helps to illustrate the fact that there's been some serious concerns. Several worrying cases are still in litigation. WeChat and Tencent were taken to court over concerns that youth modes in their apps could have possibly violated legal frameworks.
Others have raised concerns about the way that parents are using information collected by outside third-parties.
Misuse of Teenagers' Information
By taking advantage of the way that a popular search service works, tech-savvy parents have essentially spied on their teenagers. As companies further ramp up their information collecting efforts, it might even become easier for families to do so. Case in point, one fast food chain is using a Siri-like AI algorithm to take customer orders. It's not completely unfeasible for a particularly skilled individual to gain control of this information, leading to privacy concerns as well as legal ones.
Few commentators would question whether or not it's important for parents to be connected to their children's interests. In fact, some astute observers have suggested that these kinds of questions wouldn't have arisen had families been tighter knit and already knew the sorts of challenges that their offspring were experiencing. In some ways, the moral panic aspect resembles that seen by the music industry in the 1980s.
Whether legislators will take similar actions as those taken in the past remains to be seen, but few people doubt that the number of privacy questions raised over underage Internet access are only going to increase.