Survey: Social networks not protecting kids' privacy

Three out of four parents surveyed by Common Sense Media feel social networks don't do enough to safeguard their children--who, they say, are probably sharing too much information online.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

Kids are sharing too much online, and social networks aren't doing enough to protect them.

Those were the sentiments expressed by parents in a study released yesterday by Common Sense Media. Two nationwide polls (PDF) conducted in August, one of adults and one of teens, found that 92 percent of parents believe their kids are sharing too much information about themselves online. And 85 percent said they're more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago.

Common Sense Media

Three out of four parents also believe social networks aren't doing a good job of protecting the privacy of kids, while 71 percent of adults in general feel the same.

With parents so worried about their childrens' online activities, many of them are grasping for ideas and solutions.

A majority feel that search engines and social networks should not be able to share the physical location of a child with other companies unless the parents approve. Only half of parents said they read the terms of service on a Web site, though most would read them if they were shorter and clearer. And 69 percent of those polled believe online privacy should be a shared responsibility among individuals and the online companies.

Many parents are also looking for action from outside organizations, according to the survey results. Around 60 percent said they want Congress to update online privacy laws for children and teens. Almost 90 percent would support a law requiring online companies to get their opt-in approval before those companies could use a kid's personal information for marketing purposes. Finally, 70 percent of the parents surveyed think schools should teach students about online privacy.

Though kids themselves are perceived as revealing too much online, 79 percent of the teenagers questioned in their own poll think their friends share too much personal info on the Web. Many of those teens also see the repercussions down the road as 58 percent fear that sharing too much personal information online could prevent them from being hired for a job or getting into the school of their choice. On the positive side, 70 percent of the teens said they proactively protect their online privacy by working with privacy settings.

"The poll results present a clear divide between the industry's view of privacy and the opinion of parents and kids," Common Sense Media CEO and founder James Steyer said in a statement. "We are all responsible for addressing this enormous challenge."

Based on the survey results and as part of its effort to help parents better protect their kids' online, Common Sense Media has launched its Common Sense Privacy Campaign with a wishlist of items.

The Common Sense campaign is asking that kids not be tracked for behavioral marketing reasons and that all privacy settings should be opt-in. Privacy and terms of service statements should be clear and simple. Parents, teachers, and kids alike all need to be educated about defending their online privacy. Online companies should be more innovative in protecting the privacy of kids and families, but government also needs to update privacy laws and polices for the 21st century.

Common Sense also has the following pieces of advice aimed directly at parents concerned about the privacy of their children:

  • Make sure your kids always use privacy settings so they're not publicly searchable on Facebook and other social networks. Your children also need to know that they can "untag" themselves from a Facebook photo to further protect their privacy.
  • Kids should not be sharing their locations on sites like Foursquare or Gowalla as it could expose them to contact from unwelcome people and provide personal details to advertisers.
  • Steer your kids away from filling out questionnaires, free giveaways, and online contests as those are typically used to grab personal information solely for marketing reasons.
  • Teach your kids to look for and check the opt-out buttons on a Web site to prevent their personal information from being collected and used.
  • Review any offers, forms, and other sign-up pages for ringtones and other software that your kids may want so you know who's doing the selling.

Conducted by Zogby International for Common Sense Media, the online survey of adults reached 2,100 people between August 13 and August 16. The survey of teens hit 401 individuals aged 15 to 18 and ran from August 18 to August 20.

See also: Study: 92% of U.S. 2-year-olds have online record