The Online Privacy Bill

What do young people, parents and carers think about the proposals?

By Mabel Truong

The release of the Online Privacy Bill Exposure Draft for public consultation in late 2021 aligned with our research project. The Bill proposes stricter requirements for how social media platforms handle children’s personal information (with children being defined as an individual who has not reached 18 years of age). Online platforms would need to obtain the consent of a parent or guardian of a young person who has not reached 16 years to collect their personal data.

Many young people had not heard of the bill prior to attending the focus groups. Once young people were informed of the bill, some were reluctant to believe that the proposals would benefit young people, and instead believe it would “cater to parents” by giving parents and carers “an authority over their children especially younger children”. A young person expressed how “in the case of a lot of controlling parents it would be bad for the kid because then if the parents are controlling and they don’t have any social media to talk to people, I feel like that could negatively impact the kid. Maybe they’d get lonely, or they wouldn’t be able to use it as an outlet.” Therefore, some young people believe the online privacy bill as another avenue for parents to enforce more control over young people by limiting their agency. Young people have identified how stricter controls with the proposed bill would reduce their freedom, which will have an overall impact on how they can connect socially, shape their identity, and learn and grow in their native digital space.

While upon first glance, it appears to protect young people, young people recognise that it could lead to risky/unsafe behaviours as they try to find loopholes. A young person gave the example of getting a VPN and changing the country if the bill created an obstacle for them. Young people also shared how they believe parents often underestimate how easy it is to get around current systems and they feel that their parents also underestimate their current behaviours and knowledge about eSafety. However, parents in the focus groups did acknowledge that a risk of the bill is that young people could still find ways around it. Overall, young people feel this bill does not acknowledge those who are already proactive with practising safe online behaviours.

Parents on the other hand, initially saw the bill as an opportunity for governments to support parents as rule makers to protect young people online. It was seen as beneficial for parents as they are no longer the “bad guy” as the online decisions would become a collective decision with the government. However, concerns were raised when discussing how the safety of young people would be achieved.

The process of age verification such as uploading passports or birth certificates and social media profiling were highly rejected by the parents in the focus groups. One parent had asked “do you really want to share your passport number with a gaming app?”. Overall, these mechanisms were seen as “overreaching” and parents did not feel that they could trust where and how the data would be used. Parents also expressed the inconvenience of needing to ongoingly go through the verification process for all online platforms.

Overall, young people also believe that responsibility for online safety is a collaborative effort between the federal government, young people and the online platform.