The reality is, privacy policies are important to digital parenting, especially now. Our tweens and teens are still maturing and growing, and as apps and social networks pop up and quickly trend, it is our responsibility to help them navigate and watch out for their well-being. Just like we would when they start to date or learn to drive a car.
Let’s step back and acknowledge for a moment two things:
- Privacy policies are in place a) to clear a legal pathway for a company to conduct its desired business, and b) to help the user of a service understand how their information is being used. Policy language doesn’t have to be foreign and confusing, but it often is. Why? Because it’s an attempt to explain the legal language, how the business works and how it impacts us as their customer. Regardless of how it is worded, its context is something most parents and teenagers simply aren’t familiar with.
- Do we care? Yes -- and then no. By nature, we find something we like and we want it to work when we use it. Life is good, and that’s what we care about. We care a little more when something suddenly emerges that affects us personally, and after that understanding sinks in or confusion fades away, we’re back to square one - we have something we like and we’re happily using it.
As parents we can’t be everywhere and know everything, but when it comes to guiding and protecting our children, regardless of age, the fine print in digital media should - and does - matter.
Understanding app and social media privacy policies and terms of service help you differentiate between perceived understanding of how something works or is used, and actual reality. Is your child’s profile visible to just friends or to the public? Is location information shared? Being equipped with this information helps you to have an informed conversation with your children about the pros and cons of what they’re using, and guidelines and expectations, if necessary.
- Updates to privacy policies and terms of service can impact a user’s privacy settings in an app or on a social network. Privacy settings are important as it’s one way companies give you control over how some information is shared or used. Therefore, it’s important to remind your child regularly to update or check their privacy settings -- or do it with them.
- How an app or social network works and uses your teenager’s content via features or functions can have a secondary-effect on your child. These environments are more than forums for expression or keeping in touch with friends. Often times by the sharing of content, capturing of screen grabs and access to strangers or public audiences, digital media usage can create situations or come with subtle nuances that impact your child’s daily life - confidence, feeling accepted, bullying, breaking of trust, embarrassment, feeling left out, and more. Staying on top of privacy policies and terms of service helps make you an aware parent who can watch for the effects of how your child’s activity is impacting them personally and among their peers. (For a powerful example, see this article from Yahoo Parenting of a teenage Instagram star’s wake-up call and first-hand account.)
- Innovation happens fast, which means privacy policies and terms of services can change quickly, too. This doesn’t mean new features, monetization or usage of information were never a part of a company’s vision, but digital media and technology continue to make new ways of communicating and behaving possible. So don’t be surprised when you hear about updates from established or emerging companies. Instead, take it as a cue to pay attention and see if and how your child might be affected.
So while you might treat social media and digital media privacy policies similarly to the prospectuses you receive annually about the funds in your investment portfolio, or the privacy updates you get in the mail about your credit card (quick read, if at all, and toss), as parents we have a greater responsibility to understand where our kids are spending time, even if it’s virtual, and to discuss and decide, like everything else, where our comfort levels fall and where our expectations stand.
To get a head start on understanding the policies of a handful of apps and social networks popular with kids, check out this list.