With reports in the news recently, about data collection ‘from birth,’ parents are rightly concerned about the kind of data that is being collected on their children. There are also concerns that children don’t know or understand that this information is being collected about them and shared with others.

How is data being collected on children?

There are many ways data is being collected on children with social media being one of the large contributors of this. In fact, the children’s commissioner warned that, ‘more than 1,000 pictures of a child are posted online before they turn 13.’ And it doesn’t stop there, as her findings go on to mention that once children start using social media, they will ‘on average post nearly 70,000 times between the ages of 11 and 18.’

There are many instances of young people and their parents sharing videos, images etc. on social media, without always realising the additional information that can be obtained from that data. For example, say a parent decides to share a photo of their child ready for their first day of school. This photo tells a viewer their age, what school they go to, probably their name and maybe even their house number.

However, social media is just one place this data is being collected. Just using the internet collects all sorts of data, this is obvious through targeted advertising based on search history etc. There are parents using tracking apps and devices, which of course collect data on a child’s location. Additionally, and less noticeably, there are toys that collect videos and audio generated by children and smart speakers logging what they have heard.

Data is of course collected by places such as schools, doctors’ surgeries and so on. Data collection is necessary for these public bodies, providing they have a good reason for having it. For example, a school needs to have medical information about children in case they have an accident, they have an allergy they need to be aware of, they need to use an inhaler etc. If data is collected purposefully and securely by public bodies this is not an issue.

What actions are being taken?

A large concern in the commissioner’s report, is the impact that this data could have for these children in the future. The report explained, “such information could influence which universities people are accepted to, whether they received a mortgage or even their job applications.”

The commissioner is calling for strengthened data protection laws for young people. Also for ‘smart toys to clearly label if they record or store information on children.’ She is supporting the telegraphs campaign for ‘a statutory duty of care to be placed on social media companies to ensure children were properly protected online.’ In the meantime, though, what can parents and schools do to help better protect children? Here are some things to consider.

What do children need to know?

Katherine Ormerod, a fashion journalist, explains: “I think we have to be open with children about their digital footprint as it will be a part of their reality from the beginning and they may have very, very strong views on that.”

Here are some key things that children need to understand about their digital footprint:

  • How their data is collected, why and by what
  • That they have the right to know what data is collected
  • Terms and conditions of how and why their data is used
  • What can happen when information is shared and why this could be an issue

How can parents help?

  • Being conscious about what they share and the potential consequences of this
  • Considering if they should share information and thinking about why
  • Being aware of different ways data is collected and why
  • Talking to their children about data

How can schools help?

  • Teaching pupils about how and why data is collected
  • Keeping up to date on ways data is collected and why
  • Communicating with parents about data collection inside and outside of school, to support their awareness
  • Ensuring they are following their GDPR policy
  • Informing pupils about their rights, such as when they are old enough to provide their own consent


Children are being ‘datafied from birth,’ BBC News Education, 8/11/2018


Digital footprint starts in the womb, Children’s Commissioner warns, The Telegraph, Mike Wright, 8/11/2018


Further Reading