Popular online services harvest huge amounts of data from children who might be unaware of what they are giving away, warns Tom Gaffney, Cybersecurity expert at F-Secure.
Tom Gaffney said that social media or gaming sites often scan everything from a user’s contact list to hard drives connected to their computer – and that criminals also target children in popular online games.
Advertising companies hold up to 72million ‘data points’ of information on the average 13-year-old child, according to 2017 research by advertising company SuperAwesome.
Gaffney said he would never let his children use these kinds of apps due to fears over how data is collected and used. He said: ‘From a privacy perspective all apps are data hungry, which makes me averse to children using them.
‘The driver for data capture is monetization. Apps collect the data and then sell it to data brokers and advertisers. When you consider this for apps that target young people it becomes a greater concern because children are less likely to withhold personal information that they provide within the app.’
Reports earlier this year suggested there is a thriving ‘underworld’ in Roblox, which has no age limit and 230 million users worldwide, many of them children.
Hackers are believed to be targeting children and stealing in-game goods or account details. They make ‘easy targets’, said Gaffney.
He warned: ‘One way Roblox can be hijacked is by phishing which involves someone sending the user an email or text message that looks like it’s legitimately from the company. The message will ask the person to click on a link or download an attachment.
‘Once that happens the hacker has gained access. Children are potentially easier targets because they are less informed of the risks and whether a message is suspicious.’
Messenger Kids offers a messaging platform aimed at young people, where parents sign up on their children’s behalf.
But this year, the Federal Trade Commission claimed that Facebook had misled parents over how much control they had over who children were in contact with in the app.
The FTC also ruled that Facebook had been deceptive around how much access app developers had to private data.
Gaffney said: ‘Meta has been criticized for its alleged safety breaches in its Messenger Kids app and other more general privacy issues related to children’s private data.’
Gaffney advises that WhatsApp is safer, as data is protected with end-to-end encryption.
He said: ‘WhatsApp is safer in that regard. The messages on the WhatsApp platform are protected with end-to-end encryption which means it operates a private communication system and ensures that third parties such as Google, can’t read messages that are sent from one phone to another.’
DailyMail.com has reached out to Meta for comment.
Gaffney believes popular social media sites including TikTok ‘aggressively’ collect data from users, which he says makes it inappropriate for children.
The way the company collects data is ‘highly intrusive’, Gaffney said.
DailyMail.com has reached out to TikTok for comment.
Snapchat poses a different kind of risk for young people in terms of ‘account hijacking’, where criminals take over a user’s account, Gaffney warns.
Snap Inc, the parent company of Snapchat, says users under 13 shouldn’t use the app, and also offers tools such as Family Center to help parents manage children’s accounts.
Gaffney said: ‘Social networking apps are prone to “account hijacking” – when someone accesses the account without permission. This can be done if a hacker accesses a password.
‘If other accounts have been hacked and the user typically uses the same password it becomes easy for hackers to gain access to multiple platforms. Therefore it’s important to introduce children to a password manager service early on – start good habits early.’News