Datafication of Children

From SI410
Jump to: navigation, search

Datafication, also known as being datafied, is a growing trend as our actions online are increasingly changed to quantifiable data that can be monitored, analyzed, and tracked. Companies place value on this value of changing data because it can be leveraged for profit. The lucrative practices that can monetize data include targeted advertisements.

Most in our generation began forming the beginnings of their social media footprint once they turned 13 years old, the age minimum of account creation on most online platforms. Teenagers would post personal photos and videos as a form of expression and self-image portrayal. This once coming-of-age ritual is rapidly evolving. As these teenagers are now entering adulthood and eventually having teenagers of their own, their social media use remains almost unchanged.

Children’s interactions with the internet is increasingly common practice. Toddlers play with toys that connect and upload data to the internet, like CloudPets, a toy that stored voice memos of its child users and families. It was eventually hacked. Parents are creating social media profiles for babies before they are born. They continue to post about their child well sometimes up into their teen. In doing so, parents can often be violating their child’s privacy. How severe this breach of privacy can greatly depend on how personal the shared content is.

Kids' Online

We have seen the presence of children online increasing exponentially [1], especially with the wave of “sharenting.” Sharenting is the usage pattern of parents sharing information about their children online that is prevalent across all major social media platforms. [2]. Criticisms of sharenting suggest that parents need to think before they post their child's information because they can't predict whether it could have a negative impact on their children as they get older. Other negative reactions to the practice argue that parents are shaping a child's online identity before the child can give their input. Data on children is collected on their parents' profiles but, more severely, can be collected through a variety of other modes like toys, education software, and wearable devices that collect data in utero.


Technology is infiltrating every aspect of our lives, a fact that doesn't leave out children. There are many ways that children unknowingly consent to have their data gathered. Electronic kid’s toys like Teksta Toucan, My Friend Cayla, or CloudPets were extremely popular among children in the last decade. All of these electronic toys are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled. At the height of their success, Teksta Toucan and My Friend Cayla had reports of their Bluetooth feature being hacked and displaying cuss words to their young users. CloudPets’ stuffed toys, which worked by collecting data on children’s voice recordings [3] had its data hacked and compromised.

Student data being sold on the Dark Web.

Educational software is a teaching tool in use in classrooms across the world. Sites like Edmodo and Schoolzilla or learning management systems created at schools and universities exist to supplement the learning process. By using any of this software, kids must create accounts and post personal data online. This data can and has repeatedly proven to be hacked [4].

Wearable Technology

Wearable Technologies like GPS-enabled smartwatches were also subjects of mass hacking. These watches, designed so that parents would be able to track their children’s exact whereabouts, had no encryption, kept a default password, and were technologically vulnerable. This allowed for hackers to easily break into the watch microphone and GPS service.

Data on babies and fetuses are also being gathered. Popular devices on the market for expecting parents to purchase include wearable devices, infant scales, bottles, and more. There are also several apps available to record prenatal data [5]. There are various wearable tech pieces pertaining to babies and pregnancy, such as Femom, a remote monitoring device a mother can wear during
The Sproutling Baby Monitor
pregnancy. Fenom tracks information like blood pressure, glucose levels, weight, and heart rate of both the mother and their baby. This information can be then sent to a providing physician [6]

The Sproutling Baby Monitor, an ankle band for infants, is made up of a silicone band that measures the infant’s heart rate or pulse, the baby’s temperature, and tracks the baby’s position and motion. The band can send alerts to a parent through a synched smartphone app, notifying them if the baby is rolled over. Sproutling gathers other data like age and weight and has machine learning algorithms to estimate how long a baby should sleep or when they will wake up. [7]

Internet Fame

Youtube is home to thousands of content creators who make their living off of the ad revenue from videos and sponsorship deals with companies who compliment their brand. Family vlogs are categorized as a subset of traditional vlogging where the focus is typically on the day-to-day interactions with one’s partner and children. Family vloggers are some of the most profitable and popular creators on the platform because their content is considered ‘family-friendly’ by Youtube’s algorithm and advertisers alike.

Family vlogs are appealing to viewers who want to be exposed to lifestyles that are alternative or parallel to their own. Parents may find it interesting to see how a vlogging parent raises their children in comparison to their own techniques, and other viewers may simply admire a vlogger’s family dynamics and become invested in their story. In fact, the long-term success of a family vlogging channel relies on the parasocial relationships formed between the family and their viewers. By filming everything from major milestones like births and graduations to minor setbacks like disappointing report cards and lost sporting events, family vloggers are able to make their audience feel like a member of their family and therefore more willing to support them and their channel. [8] The more a vlogging parent uploads the stronger those bonds become, so often their children take center stage and are encouraged to be as cute, engaging, and interesting as possible for the millions of strangers online who are watching them grow up.

The ACE Family is one of the most popular family vlogging channels on Youtube with over 19 million subscribers. Their videos typically average around 5 million views but major life events like births are particularly successful.[9]

The children of vloggers essentially work full-time in support of their parent’s Youtube career and are owed a nontrivial portion of the credit for their success. According to the Pew Research Center, videos with children in them average almost three times as many views as other types of videos from high-subscriber channels.[10] Furthermore, the first and third highest paid Youtube stars of 2019 were children. [11]

Currently, child labor laws do not extend to online content creation so there are no protections against parents who may exploit their child for profit. However, given that children cannot fully consent to the kind of emotional and psychological labor associated with being filmed full time or the privacy risks associated with having their lives shared with online audiences, legislation to expand child labor laws is already sorely needed. [12][13]



There have been laws created in order to protect children and their rights when it comes to data and their online identity. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) [14] was created in 1998 requiring websites to include a privacy policy and instructions on when a child under 13 years of age must obtain consent from a parent in order to use a website. COPPA also set forth responsibilities a website has in order to protect a child’s online privacy and safety. This law was intended to protect children under 13 from the oftentimes negative nature of the internet, specifically the way marketers collect information on individuals online. This act meant to limit what marketers could collect on children. The privacy notice must be clearly written on the main page of the website or wherever the information is being collected. The notice must describe how to contact the site, how the personal information is going to be used, and whether third-party entities will get access to the data. “Verifiable parental consent” must also be obtained prior to the child using the website. This consent is typically done through emailing the parents. If a website does not comply with COPPA, there are penalties. In the case of noncompliance, there are fines up for $11,000 for each incident, plus probable bad publicity.

There have been complaints that COPPA compliance can be difficult and expensive. Obtaining parental consent can be complicated and attorneys may need to review compliance materials which can get costly. Due to this, many websites simply restrict access to individuals under 13 years of age or get rid of features that would force them to comply with COPPA like inputting personal information or engaging in a chat room.


GDPA General Data Protection Regulation [15] in Europe is the main law that regulates how companies must protect its citizen’s data. Companies that fail to comply will be subject to penalties and fines. Some requirements of GDPA include the requirement of consent to data processing, anonymizing data, notifying users when there is a breach of data, and safely handling the data through transfers. This regulation says that data must be processs lawfully and transparently. Since this is a European regulation, any website that reaches any users in Europe must comply with GDPA, or they will remain inaccessible.


This California Consumer Privacy Act is similar to GDPR [16], but it is an act that companies must comply with if they are in California. Since many tech giants are located in California, this law is meant to be far-reaching.

The Future of Privacy Forum

The Future of Privacy Forum is a group in Washington, D.C. that advocates for data privacy. They have released some documents pertaining to young people specifically like The Policymaker's Guide to Student Data Privacy which is a resource allowing policymakers to gain insights into how to develop student data privacy legislation [17]. They also wrote about Student Data: Trust, Transparency and the Role of Consent [18], which details the datafication of children especially within the school system.

Ethical Concerns

There are various ethical concerns that are raised around discussions of children and the internet. Online information about a child can benefit their online identity when they are willing and consenting to the information. This is a different discussion when it comes to the act of sharenting or when another party is posting on their behalf. It has been argued that the negative implications of this information being gathered online at a young age can change a child’s life chances and opportunities. Little is known about how companies create data profiles on individuals and how this might affect an individual's opportunity for employment, insurance, college acceptance, and other opportunities [19]


Sharenting has implications on a child’s right to privacy. Luciano Floridi takes a stance on privacy and claims one value of privacy is the feature of ownership. A contamination, like sharenting, breaches privacy and may diminish the right a person has to their own identity [20].In fact, a UK investment company has released a report that forecasts that by 2030, sharenting will be responsible for 2/3 of identity fraud, costing people hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Committing fraud only requires a name, birthdate, and address of a person which can easily be found on social media accounts these days. [21] A study conducted by a professor at the University of Tennessee interviewed five mothers to find out the reasoning behind this phenomena and why mothers in particular are so vulnerable. They found that most of the mother’s acts of sharenting were motivated by a desire to be a “good mother” while simultaneously being uncertain of how to do so. They also reported that posting about their children was a way of coping with the difficult transition into motherhood. Social media provides a community that can be supportive to new mothers as they are adjusting to motherhood. However, these emotions that are so common among mothers these days have also made them, and their children, vulnerable to the negative effects of sharenting. [22]

An incidence of digital kidnapping on Instagram

Digital Kidnapping

Digital Kidnapping is another ethical issue that many have spoken about. It occurs when a minor’s photos, often a baby, and likeness are taken from online and used to pose as the minor or their parents [23]. The kidnapper uses these photos as their own. They can reveal personal, sensitive information which can have negative side effects in the future such as difficulty getting into college due to their permanent digital footprint or cyberbullying. It is typical for the kidnapper to pose as the parent or use the photo and post it as a fake adoption photo [23].

Future Implications for the Child

As mentioned previously, there are concerns regarding how parents sharing information about their kids online could negatively affect their futures. There are a few ways this could occur. One of the biggest concerns is the potential negative psychological effects it could have on a child’s development. Psychologist Aric Sigman says, “Part of the way a child forms their identity involves having private information about themselves that remains private. That is being eroded by social media. I think the idea of not differentiating between public and private is a very dangerous one." Parent’s often share embarrassing things their child has done online because it seems harmless in the moment. However, 10 years later this content could be used against them by a childhood bully or even the larger media if they become a prominent public figure. [24] A University of Michigan study found that 56% of parents interviewed have shared (potentially) embarrassing information about their children online and 27% shared (potentially) inappropriate photos. [25] Lack of privacy in children’s youth could easily lead to future humiliation and/or discrimination.


There are many laws and groups in place made in response to the datafication of children, but some argue that these are not really stopping the issue at hand [26]. Although COPPA and various other laws exist in order to protect young children from the effects of the internet, the children are still being posted online through parents’ pages. By the time kids are 13 years old, parents will have posted 1300 photos and videos of their child to social media. This number reaches about 70,000 posts by the time they are 18 years old due to the child’s own posts [26]. This is attached to the child’s digital footprint for the rest of their lives, while the child has very little ability to consent to it. Furthermore, the GDPA does not explicitly rule out the datafication of children. Instead, it just advises that it should not be the norm.


  1. Hern, Alex. "Digital Birth: Welcome to the Online World", Business Wire, 6 October 2010. Retrieved on 25 March 2020.
  2. "Sharenting: Children's Privacy in the Age of Social Media", SSRN, 7 Jan 2016. Retrieved on 25 March 2020.
  3. Hern, Alex. "CloudPets stuffed toys leak details of half a million users", The Guardian, 28 Feb 2017. Retrieved on 25 March 2020.
  4. Watters, Audrey. "Hack Education: The Weaponization of Education Data", National Education Policy Center, 12 December 2017. Retrieved on 25 March 2020.
  5. "The Rise of Pregnancy Apps and the Implications for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Women", US National Library of Medicine, 16 Nov 2018. Retrieved on 26 March 2020.
  6. "Pregnancy monitoring from home – a device being trialled globally", Monash University, 16 Oct 2019. Retrieved on 26 March 2020.
  7. "The Sproutling Is Like Fitbit for Your Baby—But Better", Time, 7 August 2014. Retrieved on 26 March 2020.
  8. Luscombe, B. (2017, May 18). The YouTube Parents Who are Turning Family Moments into Big Bucks. Time.
  9. The ACE Family. (n.d.). YouTube. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from
  10. Kessel, P., Toor, S., & Smith, A. (2019, July 25). A Week in the Life of Popular YouTube Channels. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech.
  11. Berg, M. (2019, December 18). The Highest-Paid YouTube Stars of 2019: The Kids Are Killing It. Forbes.
  12. Amanda G. Riggio, The Small-er Screen: YouTube Vlogging and the Unequipped Child Entertainment Labor Laws, 44 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 493 (2021).
  13. H., C. (2020, June 16). The Ethics of Family Vlogging - A Parent Is Born. Medium.
  14. "Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule ("COPPA")", Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved on 25 March 2020.
  15. "General Data Protection Regulation GDPR", Intersoft Consulting. Retrieved on 25 March 2020.
  16. "California Consumer Privacy Act", State of California Department of Justice. Retrieved on 25 March 2020.
  17. Polonetsky, Jules. "Future of Privacy Forum Releases Policymaker’s Guide to Student Data Privacy", Future of Privacy Forum, 5 April 2019. Retrieved on 27 March 2020.
  18. Polonetsky, Jules. "Student Data: Trust, Transparency and the Role of Consent", Future of Privacy Forum, October 2014. Retrieved on 27 March 2020.
  19. Crawford, Kate and Schultz, Alex. Big Data and Due Process: Toward a Framework to Redress Predictive Privacy Harms", Boston College Law Review, 29 Jan 2014. Retrieved on 26 March 2020.
  20. Crawford, Kate and Schultz, Alex. "Four challenges for a theory of informational privacy", Research Gate, June 2006. Retrieved on 26 March 2020.
  21. Baron, Jessica. “Posting About Your Kids Online Could Damage Their Futures.” Forbes, 8 Jan. 2021,
  22. Fox, Alexa K., and Mariea Grubbs Hoy. “Smart Devices, Smart Decisions? Implications of Parents’ Sharenting for Children’s Online Privacy: An Investigation of Mothers.” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, vol. 38, no. 4, Oct. 2019, pp. 414–432. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/0743915619858290.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Williams, Nikki. "Digital Kidnapping—A New Kind of Identity Theft", Center for Digital Ethics and Policy, 2 Sept 2015. Retrieved on 27 March 2020
  24. Meakin, Nione. “The Pros and Cons of ‘Sharenting.’” The Guardian, 21 Feb. 2017,
  25. Steinberg, Stacey B. "SHARENTING: CHILDREN'S PRIVACY IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA." Emory Law Journal 66.4 (2017): 839-84. ProQuest. 19 Mar. 2021.
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Who knows what about me?", Children's Commissioner, 8 November 2018. Retrieved on 26 March 2020.