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Canada Can Do More To Protect Our Children Online

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My 7-year-old uses a tablet. I can monitor what he downloads and plays. But recently he has been tempted by ads and clickbait in his favourite games, targeted to his age group.

Personalized ads. Suggested posts. Recommended follows. Every day, adults consent to monitoring, to habit tracking, to "tailored experiences."

But rules regarding consent don't apply to Canadian children.

The Wall Street Journal reports that popular children's websites in the US install more tracking software than sites aimed at adults. These tracking tools follow our children as they surf the web, collecting data about their behaviour and interests. This information is often sold to marketing companies.

There are endless public awareness campaigns dedicated to cyberbullying. Change is happening. But with the focus on those discussions, children's privacy rights in Canada have been placed on the back burner.

Our neighbours to the south have already taken action. In the US, parental concerns about privacy protection for children have led to legislation. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires parental consent for collecting personal information from children under 13.

There is no such law in Canada. The Privacy Commissioner has issued guidelines that are similar to COPPA, but they are not enforceable by Canadian law. In a 2012 report, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner addressed the effects of technical surveillance on children, noting that "growing up with surveillance as a daily presence may even normalize the practice over time and influence a shift in social norms away from privacy."

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The Canadian government needs to take steps to protect the privacy of our young people by creating an online privacy act specific to children and youth.

Canadian children are accessing the internet at a younger age than ever before, often on hand-held devices. In 2015, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) participated in a global sweep that determined many websites and developers were failing to adequately protect children's privacy. In Canada, 62% reported that they may disclose personal information to third parties.

Enacted between 2001 and 2004, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) sets the rules for how Canadian private sector organizations handle personal information in their commercial business activity. Although businesses that cater to children fall under the Act, PIPEDA does not specifically deal with children's privacy rights and protection.

There are proposed amendments to PIPEDA that will better protect the privacy of minors, but to date those amendments have not taken effect.

Meanwhile, children are being monitored by companies with profit, not privacy, in mind.

In 2015, the OPC published an unequivocal statement on children's privacy:

"Given the practical obstacles to obtaining meaningful consent from children, especially implied consent, organizations should avoid knowingly tracking children and tracking on websites aimed at children."

At Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, we wholeheartedly agree.

We call on the government to introduce federal legislation that will better protect our children. Canada needs its own children's online privacy protection act.

On Safer Internet Day, let's aim to make children's privacy rights a priority for the government of Canada.

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