Have 'Generation Tagged' lost their privacy?

14 Aug 2017
Lego scene of family being filmed for TV

The rise of 'science entertainment' television programmes, 'sharenting' and YouTube families has raised important questions about the impact of broadcast and social media on the privacy and best interests of young children, a new report argues. 

The report Have 'Generation Tagged' lost their privacy? written by authors from the University of Winchester follows the announcement by the Government of a new Data Protection Bill which will give people a right to force social media companies to delete their personal data, including social media posts from childhood.
The report comes after a workshop sponsored by the British and Irish Law Education and Technology Association (BILETA) in June. The workshop explored the legislative, regulatory and ethical framework surrounding the depiction of young children on digital, online and social media and the protection that should be afforded to maintaining their privacy. Attendees included representatives from Channel Four, the BBC, the Children's Commissioner's Office and academics from the universities of Winchester, Oxford, East Anglia, Sussex and Cambridge.
Amongst eight recommendations, the report calls for young children to have an independent right to privacy, which is not dependent on what their parents think about their own privacy. The report also calls for social media and internet companies to have a duty to consider young children's privacy and best interests in their operations.
Catherine Easton, Chair of BILETA, said: "BILETA was thrilled to support this workshop in the crucial and fast-moving area of the depiction of young children across a number of media. The event attracted a wide range of contributors from diverse backgrounds and sparked high-level debate in complex interlinking areas, leading to tangible insights and recommendations."
"As a society, we're exposing ever younger children more and more in broadcast media and on the internet, by filming them for 'science entertainment' programmes and by 'sharenting' on social media sites," said Marion Oswald, Head of the Centre for Information Rights at the University of Winchester and one of the report's authors.
"Young people may therefore grow up in a world which already knows a lot about them that they have not chosen to share. A child may grow to regret their exposure in the media.  We shouldn't put all our eggs in the basket of the so-called 'right to be forgotten'. By the time a child is older, it may be too late."
The report's authors also recommend that there should be a limit to the re-contextualising of images and information about young children, enforced by new image matching and tracking technologies. A further recommendation is the introduction of a Children's Digital Ombudsman who could provide a way for children's interests to be better represented in respect of all forms of digital publication.  
"It remains to be seen what the long-term effects - both positive and negative - might be on young children of exposure in broadcast media in 'science entertainment' programmes. Our report is also recommending that further research is undertaken so that, once effects are more fully understood, actions can be taken to reduce any potential harm," added Helen Ryan, Head of Law at the University of Winchester, another of the report's authors. 
"We argue that we should challenge the digital social norm that accepts the objectification of young children and the posting of negative comments and images where it might reasonably be expected that the child would not agree, yet which requires a best interest test to be applied in offline settings such as care, health and education."
The University of Winchester's Centre for Information Rights has launched a new study into this issue which will see researchers interview older children who were involved in reality TV programmes at a young age and the parents/guardians of those children.
The full report Have 'Generation Tagged' lost their privacy? is available to download at this link.
Photo by Sophie Baker.


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