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New poll finds Australian teens want to more easily delete online profiles

Australian teenagers want to be able to delete their online profiles, say they’re targeted with hyper-specific ads that make them uncomfortable, and are uninformed about what platforms have access to their private data, according to new polling by Reset Australia.

The polling, which reveals for the first-time what kind of data protection Australian teenagers want to see, comes in anticipation of the government’s own review of the Privacy Act.

Key findings from the YouGov polling, conducted on behalf of Reset Australia, include:

• 81% of surveyed teenagers want the ‘right to delete’, so they can easily request that their personal data be deleted;

• 58% considered themselves uninformed about when and who their personal data is being shared with;

• 82% had seen ads so targeted they felt uncomfortable;

• 72% had seen recommended content that made them feel uncomfortable;

• 77% want privacy settings to be set to the most private options by default, for under 18 year olds;

• 71% want rules restricting sticky design techniques that use their data to keep them using a product or service for longer;

• 79% want to be able to access and know what data is held about them through easy mechanisms;

• 79% want ‘data minimisation’ rules, or to limit the amount of data that can be collected to only that which is really necessary.

“Young Australians want to see an end to Big Tech’s unfettered use of their most private and intimate data,” said Chris Cooper, executive director of Reset Australia.

“Young people understand, perhaps better than most, that their data is used to keep them online for longer or target them with hyper-specific, inappropriate, or harmful content. They want to see meaningful regulation of Big Tech, so they can have greater control over their privacy, including the freedom to truly delete social media profiles and reclaim their data.”

Reset Australia, which advocates against digital threats to democracy, is calling on the federal government to use the Privacy Act review as an opportunity to adopt a Children’s Data Code, similar to the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code and Ireland’s Fundamentals for a Child-Oriented Approach to Data Processing. The Children’s Data Code has been backed by prominent child advocacy organisations, including Child Wise, the Y, UNICEF Australia, Act for Kids, Australian Child Rights Taskforce, Child Fund Australia, the Institute of Child Protection Studies, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, Plan Australia, ReachOut and the Australian Council on Children and the Media.

Reset Australia is calling for a code that includes making sure children and parents have meaningfully consented to their data being used, and only absolutely necessary data would be collected. They are also calling for a code to be enforced by a strong and enabled regulation with the power to issue criminal sanctions for extreme breaches.

“Social media was never designed to factor in children’s rights. We need some ground rules to protect how young people’s data is collected and used, especially given we don’t know the long term ramifications of unchecked data harvesting,” Mr Cooper said. “This needs to be a rigorous code so that children can have meaningful protection.”

Natalie Siegel-Brown, Managing Director of Child Wise, said the polling shows young people want clearer data rights and greater control over what personal information is online.
“Children’s data is now collected from birth. Yet there are no systems in place to protect their online profile, nor is there any expectation social media giants will implement systems to keep children’s information safe.

“The Reset Australia report finds that young people are confused about what they’re consenting to when it comes to how their data is used. Many adults would struggle to understand the terms and conditions they are signing up to, so how can children be expected to understand what will happen with the information they put online? Making terms and conditions easier to understand as well as introducing data minimisation is an obvious place to start to improve data rights.

“There is a clear need for a focus on algorithms too, which are created and trained using children’s data. We need to make sure that these algorithms are not used to target and retarget young people with harmful content.

“Children’s hopes, dreams, and fears are among the data that is harvested by digital platforms. This data is used by algorithms to target them with advertising that can be so specific it makes them feel uncomfortable. The report is a clarion call to the government and the technology sector: what are we going to do about this now we see it in black-and-white?”

The polling was conducted by YouGov, on behalf of Reset Australia, surveyed 400 young people aged 16-17 across Australia. It was conducted via an online panel in May 2021. The full “Keep it to a limit”: The rules young people want protecting their data report can be read here.