Internet Security and the Safety of Children

Jennifer A. Kurtz, MBA

Internet security and online safety for children is a growing concern. Is the government doing enough to protect our children?
Picture this ... your child is in the public school playground, testing the laws of physics on swings and monkey bars. A masked, cloaked individual is standing outside the chain link fence focusing a telephoto lens on your child, recording every movement on video.

Creepy, right? What would you do about it?

  • Option #1: Ask the videographer to stop, move on, or else.
  • Option #2: Call the school office and/or the police to report this odd presence and ominous activity.
  • Option #3: Talk to your child about how to behave responsibly and carefully-and arrange to arrive at the school early every day for pick-up.

Whatever option or combination of options, you would probably not shrug off the incident as "reasonable" behavior or for your child's own good (FYOG). And yet, we are passively complying with what unknown third parties deem FYOG when we allow them to capture biometric, behavioral, and cognitive information about our children (and ourselves, but that's not today's complaint). Some of this information is being collected because the technology is there to do it easily, not because there is any immediate use for it; other information is collected FYOG.

What is especially concerning is that laws protecting children (under 13) are being diluted at the same that that their online presence is growing and technology for capturing and identifying personally identifiable information (PII) is improving.

According to a 2011 Pew Internet Life study, 30% of Internet users (ages 12-13) go online several times a day. Of this group, 45% of 12-year-olds use social networking sites; 82% of 13-year-olds do. And younger children (primary grades) are being encouraged to use the Internet to access educational course materials, including applications that capture their keystrokes and facial gestures. This data is a proxy for determining what educational approaches evoke more attentive responses from students. FYOG, of course, so that software providers like InBloom can improve their product(s) for children. Of course, it also provides important biometric information that could be useful in the future for advertisers (and that biometric information is the type used in two-factor authentication schemes). FYOG? There's a digital telephoto lens focused on those who are most trusting of rules and resources provided in schools.

At the same time, improvements in facial recognition technology have attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Its October 2012 study recommends that companies "establish and maintain appropriate retention and disposal practices for the consumer images and biometric data that they collect." The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) defined biometric data as including facial characteristics in 2008.

Unfortunately, in 2008 and 2011, FERPA expanded its definition of those to whom educational agencies and institutions can disclose education records without consent. Those so privileged now include "contractors, consultants, volunteers, and other outside parties providing institutional services and functions or otherwise acting for an agency or institution.”

In addition, the FTC seems to be back-pedaling in its dealings with social media sites that collect images of individuals, including children. In its 2011 consent decree issued to Facebook (following investigation privacy policy violations and deficiencies like Facebook's parental "implicit consent" proviso) the FTC required Facebook to implement parental controls over information gathered on those under 13. As of August 2013 Facebook had not stepped up to the terms of its agreement. According to Facebook spokesperson Jodi Seth, "The innovative controls we agreed to in connection with the settlement take time to build."

Meanwhile, thousands of children who were 10, 11, or 12 in 2011 have already reached or will soon reach that magic age of 13, at which time the constraints are lifted. Anyone—not just friends or friends of friends—will be able to access their posts as of Facebook's October 2013 changes. Again, that digital telephoto lens may be focused on your child. Creepy.

Interested in learning more about the online master’s degree in information assurance at Regis? Request more information or call 877-820-0581 today.

Further Reading

For legislative analysis and privacy breach chronologies: http://epic.org/privacy/student/

Family Educational Rights and Privacy; Final Rule, (2 December 2011), 34 C.F.R. Part 99. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-02/pdf/2011-30683.pdf

Federal Trade Commission. (2012). Facing Facts: Best Practices for Common Uses of Facial Recognition Technologies. Retried from http://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports/facing-facts-best-practices-common-uses-facial-recognition-technologies/121022facialtechrpt.pdf

Lenhart, A., Madden, M., Smith, A., et al. (2011). Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites. Pew Internet & American Life Project. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Teens-and-social-media.aspx

Vindu, G. (2013, November 16). Facebook reasserts posts can be used to advertise. The New York Times. pp. B1–B2.