Child experts warn of internet risks facing very young children

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Clear parental guidelines are necessary to protect very young children from the risks of internet use as toddlers and pre-school aged children gain greater access to tablets and smartphones, according to a new report released by EU Kids Online.

The report, prepared at the London School of Economics and Political Science, recommends a number of measures to ensure children under eight years of age can use the internet safely.

These include the development of internet safety education packages for parents, carers and childcare centres, and the integration of default privacy protections on smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.

“Zero to eight – Young children and their internet use” reviews a range of recent studies showing that children across Europe are going online at a younger and younger age, and argues that their lack of technical, critical and social skills may pose a greater risk than for older children.

One of the main concerns relates to parents posting pictures and videos of their children online, and the potential effect these postings may have on their children’s digital footprint.

“It has not been established that children under nine years of age have the capacity to engage with the internet in a safe and beneficial manner in all circumstances,” according to one of the report authors, Professor Sonia Livingstone from LSE’s Department of Media and Communications.

“This is particularly the case involving young children accessing social sites intended for teenagers and adults, such as Facebook and YouTube,” Professor Livingstone said.

The report recommends greater transparency regarding how data are collected, collated, used and shared via children’s apps, and the provision of opt-out choices for parents and children.

It also calls for a review of user consent policies and the responsibilities of online service providers to remove risky information inadvertently posted by children and/or their parents.

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