Navigating through uncertainty and unawareness

Today is Internet Safety Day. The ideal time to highlight that many children and young people sign up to online services at a younger age than the minimum age requirement  (often 13 years old). Parents often wish they had more transparency in their child’s use of technology and struggle with their own unfamiliarity with technology. Given that adult knowledge is often lacking and attitudes are so varied and context specific, how can children be expected to navigate these practices?

Beyond e-safety

Internet safety strategies often focus on ‘stranger danger’ and threats based on other people rather than platforms or data collection. The UK school curriculum covers online safety in terms of protection against individuals, such as threats of “sexual predation, online bullying and harassment”, but does not cover the use of personal data by corporations and online platforms or how children and young people should protect themselves. They are therefore able to talk about, for example, not sharing their location with others (by changing privacy settings and so on), but do not consider how to protect this data from the platforms themselves.

Regulation and compliance

An amendment to the UK Data Protection Act 2018, championed by our research at Nottingham University and 5Rights and led by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), has resulted on the Age-appropriate design code. The code, which comes into effect by the autumn of 2021, sets out 15 standards to protect children from corporations rather than people. The standards include a code of practice and online services should demonstrate that they comply with the code by, for example, only collecting the minimum amount of personal data needed to provide the service or not disclosing children’s data unless a compelling reason to do so can be shown.

Age-appropriate design code

The code is an effort to ensure that the digital world keeps developing with young people in mind, and whilst there are other guidelines for the ethical treatment of children online, several recent reports suggest that there is more to be done to ensure an internet fit for children, both in terms of regulation and design.

A recent report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, ‘Technology use and the mental health of children and young people’, highlights the need to prioritise the strictest enforcement of the Age-appropriate design code to services targeting and/or popular among children. This includes that services should by default be set to the highest privacy levels and assume that users need child protection until explicit action is taken to opt out.

Data literacy vs e-safety

As children grow up surrounded by more and more technology, they have to be part of the discussions around online data protection. Their education has to shift to more media literacy awareness across all school stages that go beyond e-safety. It is important to address both the risks and opportunities, create insight and awareness of personal engagement with technologies and encourage agency. Data literacy awareness is crucial, not only for children and young people at all stages, but for teachers and parents. We are all responsible to promote children’s digital rights around the dramatic increase in the extent of personal data collection by online companies and its impact on personalised content and consequent over engagement.

If you want to know more about data literacy visit

By Elvira Perez Vallejos, University of Nottingham


This text was originally published on the eNurture website and has been re-posted with permission.