Apps ‘collecting information on children’ in our own homes

Cropped shot of young Asian mom and daughter having video call on cell phone with their family, sitting on sofa together during the day. Family Time with Technology.
Are apps collecting too much data on children? (Getty) (Oscar Wong via Getty Images)

Apps, devices and connected toys are collecting information on children within our homes, new research has warned.

Researchers from Deakin University in Australia investigated the plethora of digital devices and services which surround children from an early age to gauge the ‘datafication’ of children’s lives.

The researchers point out that by 13 years of age, advertisers will have collected 13 million data points on the average child, according to previous research.

Research earlier this year found that one in four apps on Google Play aimed at young children was collecting data.

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The researchers write: “The home is a crucial site of young children's early encounters with digitally connected technologies.

“It is here that their emerging digital footprints are being formed and where digital data about them is being produced then collected, analysed and commodified in varying ways.

‘Households with young children are indeed highly connected, and this is primarily via devices already well domesticated into everyday family life such as TVs, computers and smartphones.”

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The researchers spoke to 504 households which had 5,900 internet-connected devices between them, and pointed out the increasing use of devices such as smart thermostat and voice assistant devices.

"Digital technologies in the home blur boundaries between public and private spheres so that the contemporary home is now a site of surveillance, communication, production and subjectivation," they wrote.

"For example, through apps and software, toys become ‘smart toys’ that are connected to wider ‘digital material ecosystems’."

Researcher Lucy Pangrazio told TechXplore, "Information can be extrapolated from them quite easily about who is in the house, what is in the house, the comings and goings when you're leaving for work. And so the patterns of life can be mapped, collected and then analysed.”

The team warned of the use of apps which capture data such as infant sleep habits and food choices.

They concluded that the use of such apps is still in a relatively nascent stage, but warn that more research is needed to understand the use of such technologies in families with young children.

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