Presentation: Children’s Online Privacy and Rights

Petten MaRS presentation 2014

On March 19th, 2014 at the MaRS Discover District in Toronto, Ontario, I presented to a group of educators, technologists, entrepreneurs and nonprofits on the topic of Children’s Online Privacy and Rights. In light of a rapidly changing legislative environment in which child-oriented businesses operate, the presentation focused on how businesses and the private economic sector affect children and childhood. Discussions focused on ethical and pedagogical issues that businesses faced, which were highlighted through various case studies (included below in the links). The topic of vulnerabilitiesand, specifically, children’s vulnerabilities to the marketplace–was discussed and highlighted through examples. The presentation ended with providing multiple, practical ways of becoming more child-friendly through the adoption of specific policies and processes that respect, protect and remedy children’s online privacy and rights.

Main Takeaways:

  • Trends and Legislation
    • There is a big difference between ages. Children are not a homogenous group and are as diverse as adults
    • There is a growing market with younger children going online and using apps
    • Considering the upward trends in children’s media use, a number of advocacy groups and law makers have introduced legislation aimed to regulate how commercial enterprises collect, distribute and use personal information of children.
    • While COPPA is a much welcomed piece of legislation in the wild west of the app marketplace, there is a large emphasis on parental rights, rather than children’s rights. I would be very excited to see some legislation around children’s informed consent. For example, requiring that companies develop policies that are directly accessible to children.
    • I’ve only presented three different pieces of legislation that apply to children’s online privacy. If you want to access the broad North American market, you’ll have to look at individual state and provincial legislation. If that seems like a massive undertaking for a small start-up, then a simple solution is just not to collect children’s personal information and/or advertise to them.
  • Ethical and Pedagogical Issues
    • The children’s market (whether it includes food, clothing, toys, video games, and education technology) is a massive industry with a growing base of consumers. This makes it a very appealing and exciting market for new ventures.
    • There are many strong voices that criticize the role of commercial activity in childhood. They are worried, and rightfully so, that this commercial activity threatens to harm children’s healthy development and socialization.
    • Businesses are increasingly creating and influencing the experiences of childhood. This is problematic if the sole purpose of a business is to maximize profit without ethical regard for children’s well-being and learning objectives.
    • Children represent a vulnerable group in society. Therefore, as a business you have an ethical responsibility to respect their unique vulnerabilities and design a business that does not exploit them.
    • In general, for all the ethical issues that I talked about, you should always ask yourself: Does it truly benefit children or is it about the bottom line of the company?
    • Creating a pedagogically sound product or service for children means to respect them as learners and individuals. If your company is solely focused on making untested claims, using information for marketing and advertising, and profit maximization, you run a great risk of alienating your customers.


 Download the PDF.

* Disclaimer: I do not necessarily endorse these organizations. I am attempting to represent the broad perspectives on the issue.

People and organizations to follow:

Children’s Rights and Business:

US Gov’t websites:

News Stories referenced in presentation:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *