While social media platforms have stepped up self-regulation and are also under increased scrutiny due to data privacy norms such as The EU's GDPR, they continue to struggle to keep children (around 170,000 of them sign on for the first time daily) off of their networks. And, as a result of them being on these platforms, children continue to to not only targetted by inappropriate ads, but also susceptible to the growing menace of cyber crime, attendees at a session on protecting the privacy of the youngest digital audience at Campaign360 agreed.
"We're putting someone who doesn't have a fully developed brain into a situation where they're very likely to get addicted," contended Amanda Abel, a paediatric psychologist. "For those of us that are a bit older, we will think about like an online online world, and an offline world. But for kids, it's meshed in together, what happens offline and online are very similar and very closely entwined." Even as these children go through their formative years, what many of them don't realise is "privacy from parents doesn't necessarily mean privacy from the rest of the world. And this could then lead to things like oversharing ... giving out too much information."
This access to social media means that children are accessing content--and advertising--that should not be ideally visible to them and often forming undesirable associations with some brands. "We know that these platforms are designed to addict," adds Abel.
Despite the progress these platforms have made to keep children out, they continue to find their way online. By doing so, "we're putting someone who doesn't have a fully developed brain into a situation where they're very likely to get addicted," she reckons. And even though social media platforms have these checks and balances in place, "The frightening thing is that Facebook is skewing slightly towards girls. The fact is that, you know, seven-year olds are still getting through onto Facebook."
For advertisers using these platforms, then, the challenge is to ensure brands make the right associations with children and build trust with them. "By the time they're six or seven, they've established brand loyalty, in many cases, because they've been able to form a meaningful connection," Abel explains. "It's a very fragile audience. And that's why it's so important that we do build those meaningful connections with them, and really focus on that trust."
So if social media platforms are leaky enough to allow children to sign on, who should regulate them? Speakers at this session agreed that it self-regulation rather than onerous government legislation perhaps is the best way forward. "As an industry, it is our responsibility to protect our audience," says Alice Almeida, regional head of data, TotallyAwesome. "It is our full responsibility to make sure that any message that's being delivered to a child is safe."
Despite this opinion, it would be a challenge for both parents and the industry to keep close tabs on children. TotallyAwesome's own survey in Australia lays bare these challenges. A full 65% of Australians do not understand why their personal data is actually being collected or how it's being used by social media organisations; Three quarters of Australians believe they understand what they are agreeing to when signing up for social media, but only 19% have admitted to reading the terms and conditions; 64% believe they only give access to their demographic information when downloading social media and finally 69% believe that this data is only used for targeting advertising to them.
At the end of the day, the industry may need to much more to keep children safe online. "I actually think as an industry, we're making terms and conditions so difficult for the everyday person to understand that they're not bothering and this is this is alarm bells for me," Almeida stresses. "Whilst there is consent, because they take the books and downloaded the app, it's uninformed consent. And so we are basically capturing data from people that are that are going in blind that are going in without informed knowledge of what's actually happening with their data."