MyData Global Blog


MyData matters: empowering children and families online

The MyData Matters blog series covers the work of thematic groups and emerging themes relevant to the personal data and digital rights space. Thematic groups work on domains or issues where digital rights require particular attention and promote the MyData declaration via their activities and outputs.  

At the 2019 MyData conference, the pressing issue of children’s digital presence and rights came to the fore. Participants agreed that children are more vulnerable than adults, particularly online and that children’s data should be treated differently. The MyData4Children working group was consequently set up with the aim to empower children and their families as they navigate and construct their digital world. 

The working group goals are to:

  • Build guiding frameworks and tools based on UNICEF and MyData principles that tackle some of the key challenges in children’s data, such as children-centric design, consents, accountability and accessibility. 
  • Share our knowledge, experiences, expertise, research and open questions
  • Support the development of MyData concepts, services and solutions for children
  • Co-create a MyData approach for and with children, families, educators, government, and service providers

The recent release of the Facebook Files by the Wall Street Journal and whistleblower Frances Haugen has bought the issue of children’s data rights to global attention. For the MyData4Children working group, the revelations confirmed long held concerns about how large tech companies (mis)handle, even exploit, the personal data of children. The revelation that children and teenagers are being targeted for specific products was of particular concern to the group. In opposition to this and previous actions, MyData4Children has been working with UNICEF and others to strengthen children’s data rights.   

Paula Bello, convener of the MyData4Children commenting on the digital world of children said:“The current system – as a whole – is not working for children nor families. In the ‘real, physical world’, the protection of children is more straightforward, but parents are often powerless in the digital world. The responsibility to protect the children falls on guardians, but in reality, children’s data and digital experiences lie elsewhere, e.g., in the service providers. The recent Facebook and Instagram scandals are only one example of this turbulence. Parents, guardians, educators, governments and service providers need to be able to form as effective a circle of trust and protection around children online as they do offline, and they need tools to do so. Legislation needs to be in place, with no grey areas in the protection of children. Service and content providers should be held accountable to implement legislation and actively protect children. Only then, guardians and the circles of trust can empower children to thrive in the digital world”. 

Aligning the MyData Declaration with the UNICEF data manifesto 

MyData4Children is building collaborations with different actors to protect children’s digital rights and empower them.  For instance, MyData4Children provided comments and feedback on  UNICEF’s Manifesto: the case for better governance of children’s data) by drawing on the MyData declaration. Five key points were emphasised by the MyData4Children team to UNICEF:  

1. Shift from data protection to empowerment

Give as much weight to empowerment with childhood data as to childhood data protection. Done in an age-appropriate way, children (and also their guardians, educators, public and private service providers) can learn and stand to significantly benefit from responsibly used childhood data. This means actively involving children, again in age-appropriate ways, to participate in the management of data about themselves and so building confidence and skills.

2. Build children’s data rights on existing data rights

Build upon existing work in the data governance space and adapt already adopted models and mechanisms to the special needs of childhood rather than creating distinct systems.

3. Advocate for child-centered design  

Engage in the development of data intermediaries, like MyData operators, and to influence their design so that they can also serve the needs of children from the start and by design.

4. Make children’s data rights actionable 

Work towards as much legal certainty as possible to provide the parameters for good governance. If legislation on data is not clear, then meaningful governance becomes close to impossible. This issue is especially relevant for childhood data, where potential harms can be significantly more severe than is the case with other personal data.

5. Data literacy and data rights should be everywhere 

Seize the opportunity through the education system to implement data literacy early and throughout in childhood. 

Next steps

Moving forwards, MyData4Children is continuing dialogues with key actors on children’s digital rights, such as UNICEF, Designing for Children’s Rights, Sitra, Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fujitsu, Meeco, Tieke and others.  

This autumn, MyData engages stakeholders in children’s data rights in two events:

  1. Global Forum on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Children by UNICEF, breakout session panel on “Protecting children’s data, privacy and prioritising fairness in an AI world” 30 November will start at approximately 15:00 GMT / 10:00 EST
  2. MyData Amsterdam Community Event online workshop, “Envisioning the best digital futures for children, guardians and their circle of trust”, 18 November, 14:30-16:30 CET 

MyData4Children’s core participants are diversified geographically. This helps in raising awareness and finding the best solutions for children and families in the Global South. You can stay up to date with the working group by following this blog or by joining the slack channel and biweekly meetings.