The datafication of children

Sharing any information about your children could put their future at risk

Datafication is a new word that means turning aspects of our lives into computerized data. That is, our photos, posts, likes, messages, and affiliations all become part of a digital self that allows us to navigate the Internet and social media, but also exposes us to hacking, stalking, identity theft, and overexposure in general.

Researchers are now concerned that we now have an entire generation of young people who have been datafied even before birth. Parents posting ultrasound photos and delivery room updates are giving away precious information about names, dates of birth, and other identifying information.

We’re not warning parents that anything they post about their children online, regardless of whether they use their kids’ names, can be used either against them or their child in the future.

Think about the last time a friend posted about their child’s grades, health struggles, personality quirks, disciplinary issues, or even just an embarrassing anecdote online. Now think about how many friends are on their social media “friends” list. Now think about how many of those people are really close friends. Then consider the fact that former friends, mere acquaintances, frenemies, or downright strangers have access to this information, which can easily be used to humiliate or extort children or their parents now or sometime in the future.

Also consider the number of social media hacks that have taken place over the last few years, meaning that even if a person has been careful about their online privacy, their data (including information about their children) is now out there, waiting to be used by bad actors.

Of course, being able to share struggles or proud moments is what makes social media great. Using it can make people feel bonded and keep friends and family up to date on new developments. While it’s important not to shame parents for sharing their experiences, we might also consider how it affects their children as they get older. This goes for other family members, friends, schools, and doctors as well.

The rise of technology in schools (EdTech) has already led the FBI to issue a warning that the data of millions of children has already been hacked and used in blackmail attempts around the country. We’re also aware of dozens of hacks of medical records. While parents have less control over the collection of this information, they still have the power to ask questions about safety, privacy, and the necessity of collecting and storing the personal information of their children.

Increasingly, sophisticated background checks may someday be able to look back at this data to make decisions about education, employment, or even sentencing at legal hearings. None of these possibilities are far off.


Children Are Being “Datafied” From Birth (BBC News, 2018)

Posting About Your Kids Online Could Damage Their Futures (Forbes, 2018) Disclaimer: I wrote this one

Children Are Being Datafied Before We’ve Understood The Risk (TechCrunch, 2018)

Big Tech Has Your Kids’ Data – And You Probably Gave It To Them (Vox, 2018)

Children And Data Privacy: What Parents Need To Know (CPO Magazine, 2018)

Oath Agrees To Pay $5 Million To Settle Charges It Violated Children’s Privacy (Tech Crunch, 2018)

Do We Need New Regulations To Govern The Use of EdTech? (EdTech Strategies, 2018)