Are Children Fully Aware of Online Privacy Risks and How Can We Improve Their Coping Ability?


The age of children adopting digital technologies, such as tablets or smartphones, is increasingly young. However, children under 11 are often regarded as too young to comprehend the concept of online privacy. Limited research studies have focused on children of this age group. In the summer of 2018, we conducted 12 focus group studies with 29 children aged 6-10 from Oxfordshire primary schools. Our research has shown that children have a good understanding of certain privacy risks, such as information oversharing or avoiding revealing real identities online. They could use a range of descriptions to articulate the risks and describe their risk coping strategies. However, at the same time, we identified that children had less awareness concerning other risks, such as online tracking or game promotions. Inspired by Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), this study has identified critical knowledge gaps in children’s understanding of online privacy, and several directions for future education and technology development. We call for attention to the needs of raising children’s awareness and understanding of risks related to online recommendations and data tracking, which are becoming ever more prevalent in the games and content children encounter. We also call for attention to children’s use of language to describe risks, which may be appropriate but not necessarily indicate a full understanding of the threats.

KOALA Project Report 3, University of Oxford
Ge Wang
Ge Wang
DPhil (Ph.D.) student

I’m a Dphil student in the Department of Computer Science at University of Oxford. My research investigates the algorithmic impact on families and children, and what that means for their long-term development. I’m keen to explore the potential for designing more age-appropriate AI for families, as well as building more ethical web and data architecture for them. My research takes a human-centric approach, and focuses on understanding users' needs in order to design technological prototypes that are of real impact on today’s society.