In internet age, children must be educated about online privacy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 May, 2015, 2:38am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 May, 2015, 8:29am

Children's right to privacy online has long been a vexed issue. That is reflected in a UN convention that upholds it, but also upholds the right of parents to exercise their responsibilities, which implies an appropriate level of guidance and oversight. Hong Kong's privacy watchdog commissioned research that highlighted another aspect. It found that parents can be careless about their children's privacy - and potentially their welfare - through their own internet postings. The problem arises from parental pride in sharing, with photos, a small child's progress online, when privacy settings may not prevent unwelcome interest.

Susanna Pang Bik-tsui, head of corporate communications for the privacy commissioner, says Hongkongers lack awareness of privacy issues. Pang, who conducted focus group research into children's privacy concerns, urged parents to think before posting photos of children online. "If anything, we should be even more careful of the cyberworld," Pang said.

Earlier this year, the Post reported that several schools cautioned parents to be careful about posting photographs of their children on instant messaging sites, after three reports of child-kidnapping attempts in March. Police also advised the public to be careful of their privacy settings on social media accounts to ensure information was not shared with unintended parties.

Pang said: "[You] don't tell strangers your personal details in real life ... [so] don't post photos or disclose the locations of your children online either." Sadly, there is much truth in Pang's concerns. Criminals including paedophile networks share freedom of information on the internet.

Parents are primarily responsible for exercising vigilance and taking precautions. Pang says, rightly, that they should also talk more with their children about how to manage personal data. There is merit in the suggestion from the office of the privacy commissioner that privacy protection and related issues could be added to the education curriculum.