If you were born before the Facebook era, there's a good chance your parents have an album filled with photos of you as a child somewhere in their house. They dust it off when you bring a date over, everyone has a laugh, and then you move on with your life, grateful that you eventually grew into your head.
Not so for later generations. A new report by the U.K.'s Children’s Commissioner’s Office (CCO) reveals how the parents of today's children spread images and video of them across the internet from the moment they're born — and the impact of this "datafication" extends far beyond a few embarrassing moments with a new bae.
So. Many. Photos.
According to the report, today's parents have uploaded an average of 1,300 photos and videos of their children to social media by the time the kid hits their teen years. Add in the media the children themselves post, and the total reaches nearly 70,000 by the time a child is 18.
Why's that scary? Because we don't know how that data might impact those kids as adults.
"Could data about a child’s language development and early 4 educational performance at age four play some role in their university application outcomes?" the authors ask. "Could personal health data affect their ability to take out insurance in future?"
Put Down the Smartphone
As the COO notes in the report, we need to give serious consideration to the type and quantity of information we share about children online. Then we need to take action to prevent any unintended or detrimental outcomes.
The report's authors suggest that we establish government agencies and policies focused on protecting children's data privacy. They also recommend requiring companies to be more transparent with parents about the data they collect on young people, especially if that data includes photos or videos. Schools should teach kids about data collection to help them make better decisions about what to share online as well.
As Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield writes in the report's intro, the issue "is only going to get bigger — so let’s take action now to understand and control who knows what about our children."
READ MORE: Parents Have Posted 1300 Photos of Their Children by the Time They’re 13 [MIT Technology Review]
More on online privacy: Big Tech Splits Over Privacy Issues, at Least on the Surface