AI & Children: Privacy, Trust, and Safety in the Digital Age

AI & Children: Privacy, Trust, and Safety in the Digital Age

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the increasing use of technology in our daily lives has made children’s privacy a growing concern.1 AI technology collects massive amounts of data from people, including children, and stores it in databases where others can easily access and use it for various purposes. Because of their lack of awareness and understanding of technology and the online world, children are especially vulnerable to privacy violations. These violations of privacy may include the disclosure of a child’s personal and/or sensitive information, as well as the publication of false or misleading information that portrays a child negatively, either by misrepresenting their beliefs, actions, or character. The digital space is a powerful tool, but it can also endanger children’s physical and mental well-being. It is possible to ensure that their online experiences are positive, productive, and fulfilling by providing them with the information and resources they need to protect themselves.

The protection of children’s privacy rights is crucial for their safety and well-being online. One effective way to do this is through establishing national and international laws and policies that address the particular challenges of the digital age. International law recognizes children’s rights, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),2 which states that every child has the right to privacy. This right extends to the online world and should be protected in the same way that it is in the physical world. In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly drafted the convention outlining children’s fundamental rights, including social, political, economic, cultural, and civil rights. The CRC serves as a beacon of hope for children all over the world. It is the most widely recognized human rights treaty in history, having been ratified by nearly every country in the world. Article 16 of the CRC is especially important because it recognizes every child’s inherent right to privacy. According to the law, personal information about children, such as their name, address, and location, should be kept private and not shared with third parties without parental consent.3 This provision is intended to protect children’s privacy while also protecting them from exploitation

In addition, children’s privacy rights can be safeguarded by ensuring compliance with data protection laws. Many countries have already enacted legislation to protect children’s privacy. Some examples of these laws include the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)4 and the United States’ Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).5 These laws require businesses to obtain parental consent6 before collecting or using children’s personal information, and that children have access to and control over their own personal information. Despite these laws, the use of AI in the lives of children remains a concern. Toys, games, and other children’s products frequently use AI technology, which can collect vast amounts of personal data from children without their knowledge or consent. Given that a child will gladly click ‘accept’ on anything to avoid advertisements, there is a need for them to be more aware of concepts such as data protection and data collection in the age of AI. Further, AI technology is being used in educational settings, such as virtual tutors, which can collect personal information from children. The fact that information is frequently gathered and stored in large databases that are sometimes openly accessible to the public raises concerns about the potential misuse of children’s personal information. AI algorithms have the capability of targeting children with advertisements and other forms of online deception, thus the need for regulation and creation of awareness.

Countries that lack adequate laws and regulations to protect children’s privacy in the online world expose children to exploitation and abuse, as well as the collection and use of their personal information for commercial or other purposes. It is therefore critical that international and national laws are updated to reflect the challenges posed by AI and to ensure that children’s right to privacy is protected in the digital realm. This includes the creation of strong data protection laws, the development of privacy-sensitive AI products and services, and the education of children about the importance of protecting their privacy online.7 While excessive regulation is not the solution, it is a step in the right direction. The protection of children’s privacy, trust, and safety in the age of AI is a global issue that necessitates more than just regulation; it necessitates a coordinated response from governments, technology companies, civil society organizations, and, most importantly, parents. Collaboration can ensure that children’s rights are respected and protected in the online world, and that they can reap the benefits of AI technology while remaining safe from its potential risks.

As children rely more on AI, they may develop a false sense of security, leading them to believe that technology is trustworthy and safe.8 Children may be unaware of the risks of sharing personal information online, or they may be oblivious to when they are being targeted with false or harmful information. When it comes to children’s safety, AI can expose them to potentially harmful online content and distressing experiences, such as cyberbullying, hate speech, and exposure to graphic violence or explicit content.9 Furthermore, AI algorithms can be used to spread false information or to manipulate children into engaging in risky activities like cybercrime or self-harm.

Despite the fact that AI technology has many potential benefits for children, precautions should be taken to protect them from its risks. This includes enacting comprehensive data protection laws, educating children about the risks of the digital world, and collaborating with tech companies to develop ethical AI products and services that prioritize children’s privacy and safety. Parents and educators should be aware of the risks and take precautions to safeguard children’s personal information. This includes educating children about the risks of disclosing personal information online and sensibly monitoring their technological use. Furthermore, companies developing kid-friendly AI products should be transparent about the information they collect and how they use it, and they should be held accountable for protecting children’s privacy. Children are the primary stakeholders, as such, laws and regulations will undoubtedly be merely lip service in the absence of their input, consultation, and education about their right to privacy and online safety. We can and should all play a role in protecting children’s privacy and their right to manage their own personal information.

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1 Anderson, J., & Rainie, L. (2018, December 10). Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech.

2 The United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child

3 Mineo, L. (2020, December 14). How parents can manage children and their technology use. Harvard Gazette.

5 Federal Trade Commission. (2013, July 25). Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (“COPPA”). Federal Trade Commission.

6 Mineo, L. (2020, December 14). How parents can manage children and their technology use. Harvard Gazette.

7 Odhiambo, R.A.., Wakoli, E., & Rodrot, M. (2022). Africa’s Ed-Tech Platforms: Protecting Children’s Right to Privacy. Journal of Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (JIPIT), 2(1), 189–200.

8 Fancher, D., Ammanath, B., Holdowsky, J., & Buckley, N. (2021, December 8). AI model bias can damage trust more than you may know. But it doesn’t have to. Deloitte Insights.

9 Restriction of children’s exposure to illicit and harmful content online – WeProtect Global Alliance. (2021, May 31). WeProtect Global Alliance.

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