Science and Technology

Kids of all ages being increasingly watched

Children of all ages around the world including in Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and Asia are increasingly under surveillance online, in schools and when they’re out and about, according to a new book.

Surveillance Futures, co-edited by Dr Emmeline Taylor from The Australian National University (ANU), finds children navigate a network of surveillance devices that aim to track their thoughts, movements and actions.

“New technologies including mobile phones, online monitoring and tracking devices are reshaping what it means to be a child in modern society,” said Dr Taylor, a researcher at the ANU School of Sociology who edited the book with Dr Tonya Rooney from the Australian Catholic University.

Surveillance Futures found children’s progress, from birth to their teenage years, was being increasingly documented on social media.

“A survey of parents in 10 countries revealed that more than 80 per cent of parents with social media profiles had shared images of their children under two years old,” Dr Taylor said.

“The images are stored in perpetuity, which is not only a potential source of embarrassment for these kids in the future but, more importantly, is compromising their right to be forgotten.”

Last month, media outlets globally reported that an Austrian teenager had sued her parents for violating her privacy by posting photographs of her as a baby on Facebook.

Dr Taylor said governments and large companies used social media data for surveillance purposes.

“Big corporations are harvesting this data to inform how they should advertise and sell their products to parents and children,” she said.

Children at some schools in the United Kingdom and United States had their finger prints biometrically scanned or movements at school and elsewhere tracked with radio-frequency identification devices, Dr Taylor said.

She said children also subjected themselves to surveillance by sharing personal information, including via sexting, but they wanted control over the material they shared.

“On the one hand, surveillance is seen as a protective measure to ward off potential dangers; on the other, it seems to be more about control or stopping young people getting up to mischief,” she said.

“But Big Brother is also big business, and often surveillance is driven by large corporations looking to profit from children’s data.”

Dr Taylor said the book – the first scholarly collection focused exclusively on technological monitoring of children – tackled the social and ethical dilemmas of such surveillance, focusing on three main areas: education, identity and social lives.

Scholars from seven countries with expertise in privacy, criminology, sociology, childhood studies, anthropology, health, education, information technology, media and other fields contributed to Surveillance Futures, which is published by Routledge.

The first chapter of Surveillance Futures and a photograph of Dr Emmeline Taylor are available via this Dropbox link. We provide the book chapter for reference purposes only – it is not to be circulated or published in its entirety.

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