Big Data And Little People: Parenting In The Digital Era

July 21, 2016
419 Views

According to the report by Family Online Safety Institute, 42% of parents think the potential benefits and potential harms of using technology are about equal, however, they tend to rate the risks higher, when it comes to online activities and the use of smartphones (as opposed to playing video games offline and using cell phones, which are not smartphones).

According to the report by Family Online Safety Institute, 42% of parents think the potential benefits and potential harms of using technology are about equal, however, they tend to rate the risks higher, when it comes to online activities and the use of smartphones (as opposed to playing video games offline and using cell phones, which are not smartphones). Therefore, it is possible, that at least partially the parents attribute potential harm of the technology to the possibility of collecting data about their children. However, the parents encourage their children to use digital devices, because they think that the children safer online that outdoors (93% of parents believe that their children at least somewhat safe when they are online). Moreover, the parents are often the ones who compromise their children’s privacy in the first place.

Digital birth

Today people have a digital presence even before they are born. The parents post sonograms in social networks and create Facebook pages for their babies before even cutting the umbilical cord. It’s understandable they feel the urge to share their joyous anticipation. However, by doing so they are the first who violate their child’s right to privacy, without considering the fact, that this information will stay there and follow their children persistently throughout their lives as teenagers and adults, and may even have an impact on their university enrollment and employment chances (to say nothing of their personal life). The parents only become concerned, when it comes to evident consequences.

For example, data mining by advertising agencies started to evoke controversies lately. On the one hand, it helps to optimize customer experience by offering products and services the person is interested in, on the other hand, however, targeted ads placed in a certain real-life context may become inappropriate or even go horribly wrong. As customers, the parents are happier when they find adequate and relevant propositions on the banners or in their mailbox. Yet when the targeting becomes suspiciously poignant, questions start to arise. Expecting parents may be particularly sensitive to this issue. It should also be mentioned, that they are also particularly wanted by advertisers, as they are soon to become big buyers, so the keen interest towards them is only natural.

What is somewhat disturbing, however, is that a parent to be, willing to conceal their expectant status meets many obstacles: hiding data is now becoming abnormal, suspicious, even implying something illegal. The retailers must report large cash transactions to the authorities whereas only transactions in cash as opposed to paying by card can be truly anonymous without adding to a personal digital footprint.

Big data – big help – big trouble

In general, parents are not against data collecting. After all, the big data provided them with tools and information to be more aware and efficient as parents.

Data collecting starts pre-birth and stays intense during the first months of baby’s life. Parents attach sensors to monitor baby’s breathing, heartbeat, and temperature and react immediately if something abnormal has been registered. They count the frequency and length of feeding, sleep, baths, staying outdoors, the number of diaper changes and so on. They use android monitoring software to keep an eye on their toddlers while they are online, restrict inappropriate contents and track whereabouts of their teens. Big data collected by school systems allow educators to identify what methods are working for individual students and the education system as a whole, and report to the parents on the progress.
Their main concern, as usual, is a question of privacy and security.

Data brokers and advertisers are at risk of losing parents’ trust by staying secretive and not being frank about how they collect data and to whom they pass it later. The most common opinion is that a person should know (not just have some vague guesses) whether or not a particular information is being gathered about them, and preferably, have a say on the matter. Unfortunately, this question has no legal regulation yet: the customer does not have a right to know who collects their data and how.

Current situation affects both the customers and the companies that target their clientele based on the data provided by brokers. The risk involves accusations of being unethical, and damage to brand reputation. One should not forget that a company itself does not violate the privacy of the potential customer it targets – the source of the data often is a third party, and there is no knowing of whether the data were provided willingly or were acquired in some less desirable manner.

The main principles and recommendations on the big data collecting concerning privacy and security were stated in Mauritius Resolution about two years ago. These guidelines aim at helping to balance the unquestionable benefits of big data with the potential risks of intrusion on personal life, including the most vulnerable demographic category – the children.