Sure, I'll take that one.
There were recommendations with the first PIPEDA review to have a tiered consent mechanism that recognized differences in ages. The suggestion was that under a certain age, companies shouldn't be able to collect any information at all. Then as kids become older, they can opt into programs where they can say the companies can have that information and can flash them a few ads. But it put real restrictions on what they would be able to do. Probably most importantly, there was a suggestion that once somebody turned 18, there should be a big delete button so that the information was forgotten.
If you look at how kids use technology, they use it to meet their developmental needs. When you talk to 11-year-olds, younger kids, they're actually the ones who make me the most comfortable. They sound the most mature. They say that they don't do any of the social networking stuff, certainly not in the broad world, because that's for older kids. They're very aware of the risks, and they manage them quite well.
When they hit 13 and 14, they're at a different developmental stage. They're exploring their identities through performance. They tend to do outrageous things, writ large, for a couple of years.
Then when they hit 15 to 17, right up to the early 20s, they explore their identities through social networks. If you think of it from their point of view, these technologies are fabulous, because they give them an opportunity to meet their needs as they become individuals and grow to be adults.
I certainly would not want to have to look at anything I wrote when I was 14 in any kind of public environment. Certainly for kids, yes, I think you need a forget button. There is definitely something different when you're a minor.
One of the interesting things that's come out of the research is that there was this belief that these digital natives would be different from us. Ironically, when they hit about 29, they start acting just like you and me, and they use technology the same way we do. They grow up, in other words.
So yes, they are different. I share the same concerns about using consent as a mechanism to provide that protection, because you have to identify an age for that system to work.
I was launching some research yesterday with a youth panel, and an 11-year-old told CBC all about how all of his 11-year-old friends in grade 6 have Facebook accounts. They know that they're supposed to be 13, but they just click the right button. I think we do a disservice to kids if we say that we have to put them under surveillance to make sure that they're old enough. That won't help. Certainly, having broader restrictions that say that kids are kids, so don't collect their information, and when they get older, don't use it in particular ways....
There was the Nexopia complaint, for example. Nexopia was the most popular social networking site for kids. One of the commissioner's recommendations was that they not retain information over a certain period of time. Nexopia just said, “Sorry, we're keeping it. There's a lot of money in this stuff”. You're talking about 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old kids.
The other thing is the use the information is put to. I don't have time to go into any details, but I can point to some research we're doing with young girls. The site is embedded with marketing material that uses very stereotypical images, particularly for gender. I've just done some really fascinating qualitative research with young women. They talk about how this restricts what they can do, and they're constantly trying to force it back. It's actually narrowing the kinds of people they can be rather than broadening the world for them.
Yes, we do have to think about kids differently. I think the way to do that is to look at the uses of the information and just say that it's not reasonable to collect information from eight-year-olds and then use it to try to sell them anything.