State of the art & Benchmark of privacy design for underage users x CNIL

Challenge

“We cannot expect a young person to be able to understand terms and conditions that even an experienced adult struggles with; we cannot serve teenagers personalized ads that they cannot critically process. And it’s the responsibility of governments and online platforms to respect every user and build their services and products around the people and not the opposite.”

Charampoulos, BIK Youth Ambassador from Greece, February 2020, Safer Internet Day, European Commission.

Process

In the context of a project for the French Data Protection Commission (CNIL) to equip designers with tools to create interfaces for minors facilitating their understanding and exercise of their data protection rights, we conducted extensive research on data privacy for under-age users. We analyzed the main international publications as of September 2020: a dozen of books and over 30 scientific articles.

We also benchmarked the best but also the worst examples of privacy policies for under-age users. Some websites made us laugh, others frightened us!

Results

An international 360° study of legal, neuro-scientific studies and design experiments on data privacy for under-age users, highlighting:

1. The key importance of this topic from a societal and legal standpoint: under-age users are both more vulnerable than adults due to their cognitive limitations but also their tendency to take more risks at a certain age, and to be more susceptible to their peers. At the same time, some authors point out the « datafication of childhood », with advergames, dark patterns and profiling for targeted ads are gaining ground;

2. The key role of designers in the search for a balance between protection and empowerment of under-age users as regards their personal data: most children and teenagers understand the concept of privacy, but it’s harder for them to understand the connection between their online behavior and what companies can do with their personal data. Designers thus have a key role to play in creating awareness and empowering users, through the very interfaces they create.

3. How to « do better »? Several authors analyzed the type of prints that are easier to read by under-age users, as well as the type of illustrations which may better engage them depending on their age group. Other studies focused on the type of push mechanisms, coupled with plain language, best suited to push the right doses of information at the right time of their user journey…

A benchmark of privacy policies in the world targeting under-age users: the good, the bad and… the ugly! Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of bad examples: classic walls of text, cookie banner that one cannot refuse (!), as well as « false accessibility » i.e. colors and icons, but still the same legalese, incomprehensible text. We nevertheless identified a few good examples: mimicking the main site, to avoid a breach of experience and maximise engagement on legal terms, adapted language, and recommendations such as the ones by the 5Rights Foundation.

We are very satisfied with Amurabi’s services: they listened to our needs, were available and able to show agility and a sense of adaptation that should be emphasized in the context of a health crisis that made the execution of certain services particularly delicate (e.g. the workshops with the children).
Sophie Vuillet-Tavernier
Public & Research Director
CNIL

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