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The problem with ‘sharenting’

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Technology

The problem with ‘sharenting’

Report highlights risks of posting kids’ info to social media

Every day, thousands of parents proudly post pictures and updates on social media about their kids and their kids’ activities. That information, which might include names, birthdays, or school locations, is increasingly ending up in the hands of big tech companies and identity thieves, according to a U.K. government report released in November.

Published by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England and titled “Who Knows What About Me?” the report documents how social media companies are collecting more information on children than ever before. The authors found that a child’s digital history begins long before he’s old enough to get his own smartphone or computer.

The report said that by the time a child turns 13, his parents will have posted an average of 1,300 photos and videos of him to social media. It noted children between the ages of 11 and 16 post on social media 26 times a day. By the time they reach adulthood, they will likely have posted 70,000 times.

Such an extensive amount of personal data on children can expose them to the possibility of identity theft, according to security experts at Barclays. Three key pieces of information used in identity theft—name, birthdate, and home address—are “often given directly by parents, or can be deduced from photos or updates on social media accounts,” the report said. It cited criminal reports in which children’s data were stored until they turned 18, “at which point fraudulent loans and credit card applications were made.” The report said that Barclays “has forecast that by 2030 ‘sharenting’ will account for two-thirds of identity fraud facing young people over 18.”

The authors also documented how the proliferation of internet-connected devices contributes to the “datafication” of children.

“This is not just about parents and children sharing information on social media, even though that is part of the issue,” the report stated. “It is also increasingly about smart toys, speakers and other connected devices which are being brought into more and more homes. … And it is about information that is given away when children use essential public services such as schools and [doctors’ offices].”

Among their recommendations, the authors said tech companies should state their terms and conditions in more easily understood language and be more transparent about any trackers installed in apps, toys, and other products that could be capturing info about children. For children and parents, the report’s top recommendation: Stop and think before posting. Even tagging a child at home during a birthday celebration gives away his or her date of birth and home address.

Xudong Wang/UW-Madison

Xudong Wang/UW-Madison


Shock treatment

A team of scientists from the United States and China has demonstrated an efficient wound care system that could reduce healing times from weeks to days. The team’s bandage dressing contains tiny electrodes powered by a small generator—called a nanogenerator—worn on the torso that converts breathing motions into electricity. Experiments on rats showed skin wound healing in three days, compared with 12 days during a normal healing process. 

Scientists have known since the late 20th century that electrical stimulation promotes rapid healing. The researchers believe a portable, self-powered wound care system could benefit the more than 6.5 million people in the United States with nonhealing skin wounds such as diabetic foot ulcers and surgical wounds. —M.C.