Expert view

Stephen Deadman

As Group Privacy Officer and Head of Legal for Privacy, Security & Content Standards at Vodafone, Stephen Deadman is responsible for Vodafone’s privacy strategy and policy and the management of Vodafone’s global privacy programme.

Digital privacy 

Worried your child might be over-sharing? Digital Parenting invited privacy expert Stephen Deadman of Vodafone to answer some burning questions about digital privacy.

Q: Why has digital privacy become so important in people’s lives?

A: Because we increasingly live our lives through technology – we use our mobiles to communicate, the internet to find information, social networking to share details about our lives. Technology evolves faster than social norms and, increasingly, our use of it creates a footprint very different from the one we create in the physical world. As a society, we are just coming to terms with how to navigate this new environment and manage our digital footprints.

The norms we’ve established in the offline world – essentially, the things we are comfortable with – might apply differently in the digital world. For instance, if you make a fool of yourself at a party, some people may remember but most won’t and, over time, it will probably be forgotten anyway. But if your foolishness is captured in a photo and published online, everyone could see it… and the internet is not designed to forget!

Similarly, if I use a paper map to get from A to B, the map doesn’t need to know anything about me. But today, we rely on our mobiles or sat nav devices to help us get around and these technologies use satellites to track our whereabouts (to within a few metres) in order to work – an enormous benefit but also a potential risk when this geographical data is treated in unexpected ways (stored insecurely, for example, or shared with governments).

When our social norms and expectations don’t match our experiences online – which happens quite frequently because norms change more slowly than technology – that’s when privacy concerns arise.

Q: What are the main risks that young people could face if they reveal too much personal information online and via their mobiles?

A: I think there are two main risks from over-sharing: the risk to reputation and the risk to safety.

The more likely (although arguably less harmful) of the two is the risk of embarrassment and harm to reputation. When we share information about ourselves, we don’t tend to think about how that information might be interpreted by others – be they people we didn’t intend to see it or even those we did intend but who can still see it later in life.

Young teenagers, for example, may think nothing of posting comments and sharing photos online, but these could create embarrassment later on and even harm their prospects if they are seen by potential employers, colleges or universities.

Digital media is constantly blurring the boundaries between the parts of our lives that were once separated physically and by time – like school, work and home.”

For adults and young people alike, digital footprints need to be carefully managed. Teachers have been reprimanded, and even sacked, for posts on social media about how they spent the weekend partying because the school believes they set a poor example to students and could bring it into disrepute. This may seem unfair – everyone should be entitled to let their hair down – but digital media is constantly blurring the boundaries between the parts of our lives that were once separated physically and by time – like school, work and home.

The other major risk is to safety as young people’s use of technologies could make them vulnerable to stalking and harassment. One of the attractions of technology is that it enables people to make new connections. But because there is no failsafe way to know exactly who you are dealing with online, young people may make connections with people who are not who they say they are.

Mobiles make this digital connection potentially more worrying because they bridge the digital and physical divide – you carry your mobile with you and can easily share your location as well as your online profile. While we’ve seen very few instances of people being physically stalked, tracked or harassed in the real world as a result of location-sharing, it continues to be a concern that we should acknowledge and address.

Q: Does the growth in smartphones bring new privacy concerns for children and teenagers?

A: Smartphones are powerful computing devices that are always with us and always on, so they magnify many of the benefits, but also the concerns, of the digital world. Add in the fast-moving but sometimes ‘wild west’ innovation of downloadable apps, combined with additional information like your location, and you can see why they bring privacy concerns.

With every year that passes, smartphones get more functional and easier to use, which means that they are now being used by quite young children. What’s more, it’s now so easy to develop apps that children are becoming app developers themselves.

The smartphone environment is hard to control without also undermining its potential and value. Just a few years ago, the services available on your phone were closely guarded by your mobile operator; now, there’s an app for almost anything you can imagine! But the developer could be located anywhere in the world and the app could include functionality that may not be appropriate for children (or for any user, for that matter). We see this in the recurring stories about apps inappropriately collecting your location or contacts and using them in undisclosed ways, for example.

Q: How important is it that young people use privacy settings and Parental Controls?

A: With the explosive growth of smartphones, we’re only just beginning to understand how to build in controls around privacy and age appropriateness.

Parents can’t always depend on the age verification features that online services or apps might include – they don’t always work so well and might be circumvented – so the first thing to bear in mind is: who is the app or service designed for… adults, teens or everyone?

It’s very important for parents to understand how their children are using their phones and online services, like Facebook and YouTube. Are they enabling location features that might share their whereabouts with strangers and advertisers? Are they disclosing information in social networks that might put them in danger or embarrass them if shared too widely?

Many of the apps and features that are most appealing to young users take as their starting point an agreement to share personal information (like sharing your location with the public when you ‘check in’) unless you change your privacy settings. While this starting point, or ‘default’, may be appropriate for adults or older teens, it may put younger children at risk.

So, understanding how things like Facebook privacy controls and iPhone Restrictions work is very important. I’d also advise parents to familiarise themselves with additional controls that can be downloaded, such as Vodafone Guardian, and child-safe browsers like Mobicip or Child Safe from F-Secure.

Q: What do parents need to know about how advertisers might target their child online?

A: Everybody loves a free app or a useful website but we don’t always understand how those apps and services are funded by advertising. Every time we take an action online, we generate a piece of data that can be remarkably valuable to those who seek to understand us in order to better target advertising or provide more tailored services.

We are identified online using things like cookies, which are small data files stored on our computers. They enable our browsing and buying behaviour to be profiled and for the advertising we are shown to be more relevant to our interests. When our interests and profiles are combined with location, advertisers have a unique opportunity to show us something we are interested in at the time and place that we are most likely to respond – like a coupon for pizza at exactly the time that we’re searching for a lunch spot and passing the pizza joint.

This type of behaviourally targeted advertising has caused a lot of discussion about privacy and how much people understand and are happy with what is going on. Even adults can be unaware how their data is collected and used, so children are unlikely to understand what this means for them. Parents should be mindful of this and, where possible, ensure that their child’s devices have the appropriate settings that reflect their choices.

Q: As digital technologies advance, should we just accept that the meaning of privacy in the online world is very different to the real world?

A: I don’t believe that the meaning of privacy is changing or that it means something different online.

Most of what we do online has a ‘real world’ equivalent – finance, commerce, social interaction, work, and the search for information. What is different is the capacity for the collection of greater information about these activities than ever before and the combination of this information in ways that blur previously clear borders between the contexts of these activities – our work selves, our school selves and our home selves, for example.

As technology becomes more and more pervasive in our lives, we’re likely to see a continuing evolution – and improvement – in the mapping of offline social norms to their online equivalents.”

It’s this blurring of contexts that leads to privacy concerns. For example, Google’s revision of its privacy policy in early 2012 makes explicit that it combines data from your interaction with all the various Google services you may use and this caused a lot of controversy. One reason for this is that people may have very good reasons to want to keep data shared in the context of one service discreet from data shared for another.

But the fact that these privacy concerns continue to arise means that privacy is not dead! And as technology becomes more and more pervasive in our lives, we’re likely to see a continuing evolution – and improvement – in the mapping of offline social norms to their online equivalents.

What are industry and government doing to help protect the digital privacy of young people?

A: There have been some important industry developments in the last year that will help to provide better protection for children – two in particular are worth mentioning.

The first is an initiative by the EC and a large group of mobile and internet companies to create a common self-regulatory framework to help keep children safe online, including protecting their privacy in the context of their use of social media. Vodafone is actively involved in this initiative, called The ICT Principles (read more about it on page 120).

The second is the Mobile Privacy Initiative led by the mobile operators’ global trade association (the GSMA), which aims to create privacy standards across all types of mobile services and apps. In February 2012, the GSMA announced the publication of the mobile Privacy Design Guidelines for app developers. Vodafone helped lead the development of these guidelines and has announced that all new Vodafone branded applications will comply with them.

While governments around the world are re-examining their approaches to privacy protection in laws and regulations, technology will always move more quickly than laws can follow. So it becomes ever more important that governments and industry work together to ensure that the fundamental principles needed to safeguard and enhance our privacy are respected. Vodafone works with governments around the world to help them understand how this can best be achieved.

Q: You’re a father – how do you help your own children to manage their digital privacy?

A: I have three children all at different ages and at different stages in their exploration of technology.

Over the last year, my 11-year-old son has been much more interested in the social aspects and benefits of technology. He uses his iPod touch to message and communicate with friends and I have monitored this reasonably closely to understand his level of maturity. I also use tools to help me do this, such as installing a child-safe browser. So far, he hasn’t shown a great deal of interest in social media, but when he goes to senior school, this is likely to increase as he begins to explore a wider social world. This is a natural and important part of growing up so I am helping him to understand how to use social media in a safe and responsible way before he gets there!

My two younger children have more limited needs for use of technology.

My nine-year-old son is still primarily interested in gaming, although he is doing this more socially than before. Only a few of his friends have mobiles and he is really just beginning to want to use technology to communicate and socialise. It’s really important to understand what my children’s social group are doing, so I talk to other parents to understand how they manage this.

My six-year-old daughter is only really interested in solo games and has her favourite apps and sites that she visits, so that’s much easier for me to monitor.

Did you know
A digital footprint is the trail you leave from all your digital activities and interactions, such as emails, Web searches, uploaded photos and text messages.

What is Vodafone doing to help parents when it comes to their child’s digital privacy? 

We’re working to better build privacy into our own practices and products and we’re also working with the wider industry to ensure that high standards are applied by all the different companies that provide digital products and services.

At the heart of our global approach to privacy are the Vodafone Privacy Commitments – seven statements that drive everything we do on privacy at Vodafone. We strive to embed ‘privacy by design’ in all our products and services and we also develop practices and products to help our customers when they interact with other companies’ services, websites or apps.

We also work with our partners in the mobile and internet industries to identify and implement standards and practices that better respect our customers’ privacy – we provide privacy guidelines for app developers, for example – and we participate in technology standards organisations that help shape the technologies of tomorrow to ensure that privacy is factored into this process from the outset.

Last but not least, we work with governments to ensure that policy and legal frameworks are developed to encourage the best privacy outcomes for our customers.

In terms of specific tools to help parents manage their child’s digital privacy:

Firstly, parents can set a child profile on their child’s Vodafone account. This restricts the account from accessing Vodafone services that we deem appropriate only for older teens and adults.

Secondly, we carefully vet apps that are available via Vodafone’s AppSelect store to ensure they meet with minimum safeguards and privacy protections.

But these two steps won’t stop a younger user accessing inappropriate apps, websites or services provided by other companies and that don’t use Vodafone’s mobile network (e.g. if the user is in a Wi-Fi hotspot) or that are shared ‘peer-to-peer’ between friends (e.g. via Bluetooth).

So, thirdly, we have developed a Parental Controls solution that gives parents a high degree of control over their child’s Android smartphone. Called Vodafone Guardian, it enables parents to choose how certain features on the smartphone operate (e.g. who the child can call or text and how long they can spend browsing the Web from their mobile).

Did you know
Around three in ten parents are concerned that their child may be giving out personal details to inappropriate people online (Source: Ofcom Children’s Media Literacy Report, October 2011)

Take action 

1 DON'T be too paranoid. Even if technology forms a bigger part of your child’s life than it does your own, you still have an important role to play. As parents, we have to help them learn to use technology for good and empower them to live their lives and also give them the maturity to do so wisely and responsibly – both for their own protection and for others. Just like everything in life, growing up with technology is a journey to adulthood and full independence

2 BE a partner with them on this journey. Road safety is a good analogy – when our kids are very young, we hold their hands when they cross the road, we then let go of their hands but cross with them still and, eventually, we have enough faith in them to allow them to cross on their own. So it is with technology. Help your kids trust in your guidance and you will, in turn, learn to trust them

3 KNOW when to let go. You don’t want to encourage your kids to try and deceive you in order to avoid overmonitoring; rather you should endeavour to have a trusting and open dialogue about technology, its benefits and its risks. If you have taught them to be streetwise – in the digital sense – they will learn to take responsibility for themselves. That is the ultimate goal