Unique Protections for a Unique Audience

The world has increasingly become digitized as advancements in technology have made it possible for people to stay connected. 2020 heightened this digital state due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). With physical distancing required, the number of people utilizing technology for day-to-day activities skyrocketed.

While recent years have seen digital footprints expand across user demographics from children using Messenger Kids to adults working from home, there is one core user base that stands out. Teens.

As a result of their age, teenagers have always had a world of electronics available at their fingertips and are often more technologically savvy than many adults. They are constantly engaging with apps, websites, and a range of connected devices. However, despite their knowledge and presence in the digital world, the conversations and legislation surrounding their online privacy have traditionally been limited.

BBB National Programs’ TeenAge Privacy Program (TAPP) aims to change this. In a recent BBB National Programs’ >Better Series Podcast episode, Ayaz Minhas, Data Privacy Manager, Isaac Cronk, Digital Advertising Compliance Specialist, and Cameryn Gonnella, Compliance Manager, spoke about “why now, why teens.” Their conversation highlighted some of the key findings from their paper, Risky Business: The Current State of Teen Privacy in the Android App Marketplace, to expand the ongoing conversation about online privacy to include insight on this unique population.

Having grown up with mobile devices and technology regularly available, teens are aware that there are also risks coupled with the benefits their favorite devices offer. According to Gonnella, 72% of this demographic believe tech companies manipulate users to spend more time online. While this recognition is important, without proper regulations and protections in place, in many ways, teenagers are currently left to fend for themselves.

Advancements in technology allow companies to utilize a range of targeted advertisements. Given that apps and mobile devices’ privacy features can be confusing for educated adults to navigate, teenagers are even more at risk of being influenced by them. Ad topics can range from politics to body image and social issues, all influencing the decisions and behaviors of these younger users.

“Teens are especially susceptible to these monetization tactics because of their age,” said Cronk. While this audience is experienced with using apps and devices in practice, their age leaves them disadvantaged because, compared to adults, they lack experience with financial and emotional management. Large corporations and technology companies are aware of this and, consequently, can strategically target teens with the use of advertisements and notifications.

While they have some level of awareness about the digital environment they engage with, often teenagers do not know the full extent of how it works and are unaware that current policies may limit the protections they receive. Awareness on the users’ end is essential, but it is apparent that actions are needed to ensure teens are protected online.

Especially since interacting online has been a normalized part of their lives, and at their age, posting on apps and being up-to-date with digital trends is presented as the ‘in’ behavior, advocates of protecting teen privacy online are addressing the importance of new legislation.

“On a practical level, it doesn’t make sense to treat a five-year-old the same way we would a 15-year-old online,” said Gonnella.

The podcast episode addressed a quote that is of utmost importance in this conversation. United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Dunham, hit a bullseye when she said, “kids are not like adults online, and their data needs greater protection.” Education and conversations are useful in drawing attention to this topic. Still, consumers and companies alike need to demand action and follow through with eliminating these harmful practices that run the risk of severely harming the teenage population.