Forget screen addiction as there is a new threat to keeping children safe in the digital era: Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
According to researchers, children need protection when using programmable Internet computing devices in a digital world where everyday objects contain sensors and stream data to and from the Internet.
The risks can include peer-to-peer abuse or bullying, dangers of abuse by adults, as well as risks related to the use, exploitation, commercialisation, or insecure management of any data the children generate by using the devices, warn Lancaster University scientists.
Children are also getting hands-on — using small-scale easy-to-programme devices such as the “BBC micro:bit” to experiment and get creative with digital technologies.
Unless properly considered, Internet-connected devices can present risks to children and others around them.
“Children who are learning to programme IoT devices still have critical gaps in their understanding of privacy and security,” said doctor Bran Knowles from Lancaster University’s school of computing and communications.
In addition, parents may also lack technical understanding of IoT, which makes it difficult for them to help ensure their children are managing their privacy and keeping safe.
“Formal training is available for online safety issues such as social media bullying and sexting, but, as yet, there is no IoT component to this curriculum,” Knowles added.
It is essential, therefore, that the designers of IoT devices anticipate the full spectrum of contexts in which children may use these devices and adopt strategies that will ensure they have properly considered, and mitigated, the potential safety and privacy risks to children and their families.
“Our research provides a framework to help designers approach these critical risks with their own devices, while still enabling these devices to have enough functions activated so that they still provide a fun learning experience,” she said.
The team’s methodology includes working with supervised groups of school children to explore a wide range of ways that young people may want to use Internet-connected computing devices.