“We need to raise the standards of protection”
The results of the study “Global platforms, partial protections” carried out by the American organization Fairplay and other civil institutions, such as the Colombian Red Papaz, showed that children and adolescents around the world have unequal access to privacy protection already the terms and conditions of the platforms TikTok, Whatsapp and Instagram.
According to this research, minors in Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the United States, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia and South Africa, for example, do not have the same controls and protection settings as their peers in Europe.
Juan Felipe Urrea, head of Red Papaz’s Viguías care line for children and adolescents, explained to El País the objectives and scope of this investigation, which involved fourteen countries.
What was the purpose of the study?
The aim was to see if these platforms, which are global and accessible to children and adolescents around the world, offer the same level of protection, privacy and security to each of them, regardless of where they live.
To this end, three specific characteristics of the platforms were observed: the minimum age of the user, if the security and privacy terms and conditions were in languages other than the official language of the country, and if the accounts of users aged 17 were public, allowing anyone to can contact them, access the photos, posts they post.
What did they find?
That the platforms discriminate by type of security, protection, in accordance with the current legislation in each of the countries. As the existing legislation regarding personal data protection issues, especially of children and adolescents, is much more stable in European Union countries, we find that minors there enjoy greater security, better privacy conditions , than those in the rest of the world. , including those from the Latin American region and the specific case, those from Colombia.
What do you think is the reason for this discrimination?
European countries have countries with greater regulatory capacity not only in these matters, but in general in matters of social life, and they have enough power to put all these regulations into action. I am convinced that this is a matter of existing legislation and the power that each state or group of states has to implement these initiatives. Unfortunately, in Colombia we hardly ever have these discussions. However, it gives us a learning space to learn about successful experiences: what we can save, what things we might need to correct. But I am convinced that in Latin America, in particular in Colombia, we must move forward.
Which platforms provide more protection for minors?
There are some platforms that perform worse in certain countries than others. But aside from talking about a specific platform, it should be noted that these three, Instagram, Tik Tok and WhatsApp, which are used the most by minors, leave children and adolescents excluded in all nations except the countries of the European Union.
What are the measures they have in Europe to protect them?
WhatsApp, for example, sets the minimum user age as 16, but elsewhere it appears as 13 or, in the case of Colombia, 18, with the consent of caregivers. However, this is never stated in WhatsApp’s security terms and conditions. And I’m sure many of the people reading this interview will ask themselves: at what point did I give consent for my son or daughter who is 11, 12, 13 years old to have a WhatsApp account? This is not clearly established.
We see, especially in countries where different languages are spoken, that many of the security terms appear, for example, only in English. Many children and teens will find it very difficult to know where they can report a user who says things they don’t like, who asks them for photos, or where they can report content that seems inappropriate. Also, even though they have it in Spanish, it’s in technical jargon they don’t understand. And not only that they can report on the platform, but that it directs the user to where else they can report, like on the Red Papaz Protect You virtual line.
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And in the case of 17-year-old user accounts, which are public by default, because the platform automatically determines this to be the case, this minor will be exposed to unwanted interactions, because anyone can find them on the platform, can write, contact him, seeing the pictures he posts, what he writes, it’s all unnecessary exposure he endures. If you had a private account, as is the case in other countries, which is private by default, you will not be exposed.
What is the responsibility of the authorities and society for this neglect of minors?
What we see is that the platforms comply with the existing legislation in each of the countries. And more than the disadvantages, I would like to speak in terms of the challenges that we have and I am sure that with the industry we can reach many agreements to raise the standards of protection. We already have various initiatives around the world that have proven to be successful and are a benchmark, such as the case of the United Kingdom and the state of California in the United States. The measures show that the platforms in designing the services they offer for the marginal users place them as higher interest. The government should enact laws to this effect and civil society should be vigilant that these regulations are made and enforced.
In Colombia, can minors choose to make the account private?
Instagram allows the user to choose, while Tik Tok automatically goes public by default. Worse, it defaults to public. But the discussion that a 17-year-old user who is a minor can choose whether their account is public or private opens up a spectrum: do you have the knowledge to decide which is better? Do you understand what it means to have a public account or a private one? Although if it’s private by default, we already automatically give that user more security and more privacy.
Do minors in our country prefer to have their own personal account?
This is the recommendation we make from the various organizations that have worked on this issue. This guarantees this right to privacy, but also the possibility that children and adolescents do not have those inappropriate, unwanted interactions such as “grooming”, extortion, obscene, indecent requests.
What cases do they know in the country about risks in platforms?
We receive daily reports from the Te Protejo line about situations that arise through social networks and digital platforms.
We have cases of cyberbullying, of material for the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, they are problems that are growing enormously and becoming more and more alarming, it is appearing on all platforms and this reinforces this call for regulation, for greater security , more privacy for minors.
If they were to provide these privacy terms, would parents be able to control the connection between minors and networks?
Yes of course. These changes, which in the light of this report need to be adapted, are not incompatible, they complement everything related to accompanying fathers, mothers and caregivers to the navigation that children and adolescents make in digital environments. At the Centro de Internet Seguro Viguías, from Red Papaz, from the Te Protejo reporting line, our motto has always been that minors feel that this accompaniment is not an imposition, but that mothers, fathers and caregivers are involved in the lives of minors .digital environments of boys, girls, teenagers, know what they watch, what games they play, what their social network contacts are, what they post, but all from the spirit of sharing, creating this relationship of trust with our daughters and sons, so in if something happens on these platforms, we, the fathers, mothers, caregivers, are the first to turn to for advice and help.
Do you think that in Colombia it will be easy for the government to promote the necessary regulations for greater protection of children?
I am convinced that we will find a response in this sense in the government. Digital environments are becoming, if not already, this scenario in which children and adolescents live their daily lives. And that’s where we need to ensure that they have the best security. I know that the government will take a positive view of establishing regulations that oblige digital platforms to ensure that all services, all products are designed in such a way that the best interests of children and young people are.
Which ministries should be interested in helping to find solutions?
Well, of course that includes Ministry of ICT matters, but we’re also talking about the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Education, so it has to be a holistic approach where we manage to involve all government agencies and where the voices of citizens, society and platforms are also viewed, also listened to.
Can you give us some recommendations for parents and carers to consider in relation to the use of social networks by children and adolescents?
- Establish agreements. If a daughter wants to make an Instagram account, tell her to do it, but I will follow you on it so I know what you post, what you see, your contacts. If you want me to buy you this video game, I will buy it, but you have to play it with me, I want to learn. Earning this trust means that the accompaniment does not feel like an imposition or an intervention, but a relationship of trust, love, care that we build day by day.
- Know the platforms, enable all privacy settings. There are resources on the Red Papaz pages that explain in detail how to view this type of parental control.
- Reach agreements about screen time, always keeping in mind that there should be other types of necessary activities such as play, sleep, eating. Experts point out that at a younger age, the fewer screens, the better.
- It is not ideal to use this type of device to distract children to keep them still, quiet.
- Arrangements must be made: end of day or weekend class. The key is to reach agreements based on reasons so that our sons or daughters understand the importance of this.
- Knowing that in the I Protect You reporting line, mothers, fathers and caregivers, but also children and adolescents, find an ally to report any situation that violates their rights, whether surf on these platforms or in any other type of context.