Could children become data breach victims?This year had no shortage of data breaches, with the most severe one – the Equifax breach – still being fresh in everyone’s minds. With all of the breaches this year, a question parents might be asking is, “Can my children be affected by data breaches?” In this post, we talk a bit about how children can become data breach victims and what parents can do to protect their children.

How is your child’s data being collected?

In order to know how data breaches can affect children, it’s important to understand how your children’s data can get in the hands of a company. Like everyone who uses the Internet and modern technology, children generate lots of data – they play games online or on their phones, they may have social media accounts or text friends and they likely have Internet-connected toys. Beyond the data that children generate themselves, there’s data that’s more concretely tied to their identities. Although we tend to only think of adults having information worth taking, the truth is that a lot of families sign up for services, like health insurance, which requires them to name children as dependents and list their medical conditions. Outside of insurance and medical paperwork, with technology entering the classroom, the very act of going to school could be generating tons of data. Unfortunately, identity thieves and hackers are data omnivores, meaning that they don’t care who the data comes from — they will take any and all information and sort out its usefulness later. Because of this, there have been data breaches specifically targeting children’s information as well as those which might have unintentionally collected children’s data.

What data breaches have affected children?

It’s likely impossible to know the overall number of breaches that children have been affected by given that children’s data can appear in unexpected places. For example, it’s been suggested by experts that some number of children were affected by the Equifax breach despite the fact that children don’t have credit. It’s possible that other breaches might have affected children in a similar manner. Aside from these instances, as mentioned above, there are breaches which target the companies and organizations that directly provide services to children. Various smart toys have been hacked before and companies like VTech have had customer data, including children’s data, stolen. Governmental agencies and departments like California’s child support system and the Poway Unified School District have leaked children’s data, as well.

What can parents do to protect their children?

In the digital world, our data is everywhere, so it can be hard for anyone, let alone children, to prevent their data from being breached or leaked entirely. That said, there are things that can be done to reduce one’s likelihood of being breached and ways to mitigate the consequences of breaches.

Understand the programs and services you enroll your family in

You should be aware of any programs or services that require you to share information about multiple family members, like family subscription services. In addition, pay close attention to products that everyone around your home uses. For example, smart home assistants might be collecting data on your child’s activity if they’ve ever issued commands or interacted with it in any way. In short, you’ll need to be very considerate of the products and services you introduce your family to.

Be mindful of what you buy for your child

Given that we’ve entered the era of big data, consumers should anticipate that all of their activity will be closely scrutinized. You should expect that companies will be wondering what products you buy, how you use the products you purchase and other lifestyle-related details. Unfortunately, your children are not an exception when it comes to this. Both smart toys and video games will require children to make online accounts and potentially have their data stored on a cloud server with unknown security settings. This doesn’t mean that you should have your child avoid technology, but you should be mindful of everything you purchase for your child. If your child plays video games online, do you know which ones require account signups and credit cards on file? When looking at toys, do you know which ones are Internet-connected? Finally, are you monitoring how your child uses their smartphone? There are a ton of messaging apps and games geared toward children which might be less secure than you’d want.

When it comes to your child’s cybersecurity, you can’t afford to settle because they’re not old enough to know or monitor the full scope of threats that they face. As such, you’ll want to make sure you sit down with them and explain why these concerns are important and what they should be aware of as they play online. Additionally, you might want to consider parental control software to assist you as you supervise your child’s online activities.

Know what’s happening in your school district

Big data doesn’t just affect consumers at home. As data collection has become increasingly normalized, the amount of data being collected on children has expanded to unexpected parts of their lives. In the last decade, tech companies have begun partnering with school districts to provide educational resources, creating an emerging industry known as edtech, or educational technology. Edtech modernizes classrooms in a way that can be very beneficial for students, as new technologies are now allowing for learning to be personally tailored through individual performance evaluations. This means that students can be taught at their own pace and have personalized lessons which hone specific weaknesses, rather than lessons following a general curriculum that moves faster or slower than a given child’s comprehension.

Despite the benefits of edtech, these programs are generating unprecedented amounts of data on students. While data collection is essential to the types of personalization and feedback students will need in order to benefit from these initiatives, transparency according to some, has been an issue. In some cases, school districts and companies haven’t been direct about how the data will be used and in rare instances, families haven’t been able to opt out of these programs or even understand the terms.

Edtech programs aren’t the only concern, though, as data collection happens outside of edtech initiatives, too (as shown by the Poway school district leak). This means that parents need to be mindful of when their student’s data is being collected. Schools usually do disclose when data is being collected and what it’ll be used for, but you should also be concerned with the degree of security used to store data and who has access to the data, as well. Additionally, although it’s optional, parents should be active in their child’s school. Parent-teacher associations, school conferences, school board meetings and local non-profits might provide opportunities for addressing any concerns you have about data collection policies affecting your child. Parents should also understand that they can usually opt out of providing certain information to their children’s school.

Consider identity theft protection for your children

Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are lots of threats lurking out in the digital world. Although adults can play a more active role in managing their cybersecurity, children can’t. While you, as a parent, can step up and be vigilant about your child’s online safety, given the nature of data leaks and breaches, it’s hard to know if your child hasn’t already had their identity exposed. That’s where an identity theft protection service comes in, as they can help you catch potential threats to your child’s identity that you might not learn about on your own. These services will not only help you freeze your child’s credit, but they will also scan the Internet black market, where information goes after a breach, and public records, then alert you if any of your child’s information is spotted. Visit our identity theft protection reviews to learn more about these services and see if one is best for your family.

Protecting your children in the Digital Era is a challenge, but if you know how your children’s data is being collected, you can take steps to protect it. For more information about keeping kids and families safe in today’s world, keep reading our technology blog.