Underage Consent: Taking action to protect our kids’ privacy

By Kristen Humphrey

July 20, 2022


Peering over my 12-year-old’s shoulder as he shows me the video game he’s saving to buy, I ask: “How many times a day do you do that—click the accept cookies button?” 

He replies,“I don’t know, maybe 5 to 10?”

His answer surprises me, though it really shouldn’t.  I mean, how many websites do I visit each day? Certainly, more than 10.  And each time I do, I’m asked to enter a legal agreement that allows the website to install cookies.  Just to be clear, cookies are tracking devices installed on my son’s phone and computer when he presses “Accept”.

This means my son enters about 3,000 binding contracts a year where he unwittingly gives away personal data and sensitive information online, potentially compromising our family’s privacy (I don’t want to even think about how many contracts my 14-year-old agrees to). 

But it gets worse: each time he clicks “accept” he’s likely agreeing to let companies like Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok and Facebook track him in his digital life and he’s agreeing to let them target him with their advertising and communications.

On so many levels, this is not OK.

In Canada, and many other countries, it’s against the law for children under the age of 18 to enter into a legally binding agreement without parental consent.  

So, how is it that my kids, without any parental supervision, are agreeing to permit TikTok, Facebook–and countless other data collectors–to install tracking devices on their phones?

In my work, every day we’re helping websites to make a change.  Our YouOwnYou software allows people to choose their own terms for privacy, rather than kids and families clicking “accept cookies” each time they visit a website (and if you think these cookie banners are complicated and annoying now, just wait; privacy law requirements are only getting stricter as anyone surfing the web in Europe will tell you).

Even websites where my kids go online to learn or join sports teams have cookies that collect their data without meaningful consent from parents.  Too often, the websites themselves do not even know if they’re allowing data collector companies (again, like Facebook and countless others) to install cookies on the devices of our kids.

Awareness is the start to making real change. 

Are you concerned that your kids are visiting websites that collect their data or install tracking devices without your consent?

If so, then here are 3 steps you can take to be a Privacy Champion for your family:

  1. Send me the names of up to 5 websites that your kids are engaged with – Click here to submit.
  2. We’ll run a scan to determine if the websites you shared have cookies that track your kids.
  3. I’ll send you a copy of the report and an explanation in plain language that details how each website is using cookies to track your kids.

Examples of websites we can scan for cookies: schools, colleges and universities, clubs, local businesses in your community, NGOs and community organizations that you support. Even companies and organizations where you work(ed) – since your kids likely check those websites out.

Change is possible.

The good news is that most website owners don’t want to facilitate tracking kids (most are shocked to find out they are part of the problem).  And there are new technologies, like YouOwnYou, that make it possible to protect our kids from unwanted targeting and tracking.

I hope you’ll join me in taking action to protect our kids’ privacy!

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