We’re dedicating this month on the blog to providing tips and resources to keep you and your children safer online. Our goal is to empower you to be wiser about not only your personal privacy but also how your digital habits could be putting your children’s online privacy at risk; steps you can take to minimize data tracking; and other tips to protect your whole family. 

This week, we’re starting by taking a look at tech in the home and how it relates to keeping your family safe. 

You’ve Got Mail! 

Long before touch-screens, video doorbells, and smart thermostats, some of us have hazy memories of our first exposure to “tech” in the home. Maybe this meant when your family installed its first VCR, or perhaps when you had dial-up modem and 100 free AOL hours on one shared family PC. 

For digital natives, of course, these memories might seem absurd. Digital natives have more or less grown up in the true digital age and can’t remember a time when WiFi wasn’t as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. 

But there was a time before the internet, before toddlers owned iPads and teenagers TikTok-ed, before ad tracking and digital advertising, before online shopping carts and e-commerce. There was even a time before your (or your spouse’s) Amazon Prime shopping addiction. 

Quite simply, tech in the home has made our lives easier and more fun but has also put our online privacy at risk. And for kids growing up with “smart” everything, there might be even less concern among the younger generation about sharing things online in exchange for convenience. 

Google vs. COPPA

Last year YouTube was fined $170 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Also known as COPPA, the law protects children by limiting what user information can be taken from children. 

However, Google knew that lots of its YouTube channels simply did not comply with COPPA. According to the Federal Trade Commission complaint, eligible channel owners were making money by allowing YouTube to serve behaviorally targeted ads, which generates revenue for both the channel owners and YouTube.

The FTC noted that “YouTube violated the COPPA Rule by collecting personal information—in the form of persistent identifiers that are used to track users across the internet—from viewers of child-directed channels, without first notifying parents and getting their consent. YouTube earned millions of dollars by using the identifiers, commonly known as cookies, to deliver targeted ads to viewers of these channels, according to the complaint.”

As part of a settlement agreement, Google changed how it collects data on videos for kids. What this means is that the data generated from anyone watching a “kids video” (with child characters, toys, and games) will be treated as coming from a child, no matter the actual age of the visitor.  

Understanding the Risks

As parents, we must decide whether or not the benefits of new technologies outweigh the privacy risks. Sure, kids love YouTube videos and they love technology. We know that the internet runs on data, and we know that a lot of that is coming from within our own homes. 

So the challenge becomes learning to understand the digital risks while also making sure your family’s data and personal privacy isn’t exposed. 

In the book Naked Parenting: Guiding Kids in a Digital World, author Leah DeCesare admits it’s hard, if not impossible, for parents to keep up with the pace of technology: 

“The good news is you don’t need to be literate in every new thing that crops up. However, you do need an awareness and a parenting framework that adapts to whatever comes next. We need ways to manage technology in our homes in a big picture, broad way that will teach our children good digital citizenship, online responsibility, self-regulation, and how to benefit from technologies while staying safe.” 

Looking Ahead 

In the next few weeks, we’ll share some more articles about keeping kids safer online. Next week we’ll look at data tracking and children — and reveal how even helpful tech innovations (like location services, online learning platforms, and more) often come with a cost to our privacy.