Children want social media profiles wiped clean at 18, LSE study finds

Mike Wright
Researchers found children were

Social media accounts of children should be automatically wiped when they reach 18, a new study has found. A report by the London School of Economics (LSE) into children’s attitudes towards the internet found they overwhelmingly wanted a ‘grand erasure’ of their online footprint to stop childhood mistakes affecting their future.

The research, which was funded by the Information Commissioner's Office, also found that children were generally trusting of tech companies in the same way they are of their schools.

LSE researchers reviewed more than a decade’s worth of studies into children’s understanding of their online data and also conducted focus groups with more than 160 secondary school-age children.

Professor Sonia Livingstone, who led the research, said children were generally “outraged” when they learned how much of their personal information is being hoarded online and wanted “a fresh start” when they turned 18.

She said: “They say ‘whatever I do before I am 18 should be wiped off’ as it shouldn’t have any effect on them as an adult. They want a kind of grand erasure because they talk about the importance of making mistakes and just being kids trying things out.”

The Government is currently looking at a range of new measures to better protect children online including imposing a legal duty of care on tech giants and introducing an Age Appropriate Design Code, which will mean social media giants will have to assume users are children if they can't age verify them.

Most social media companies have a minimum age of 13, but due to the lack of proper age checks the study found children as young as nine said they had profiles.

The study found that children generally took instructions they received online on “face value” and often didn’t understand how tech companies were commercially benefiting from the information they handed over. As a result, they found it “puzzling” that internet companies often asked them to give out details they did not see as relevant to the service.

The children interviewed were also shocked to learn that material they thought they had deleted could still exist online and wanted “delete to mean delete” when it came to social media.

Other features children wanted from tech companies were a way to see which other companies their details had been shared with and “child-friendly mechanisms” to edit their information.

Prof Livingstone said the children were generally mystified as to why tech companies were interested in personal information they saw as quickly going out of date as they grew up.

She added: “Creepy is a really common word that they use. It’s creepy and sinister that all that data is being kept.”