The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Perspectives on Personalisation: event summary

Publishers and producers may collect children’s data to offer children an enriched experience of their products. But there are some significant privacy, security and educational challenges.

On the 7th of November 2017, Children’s Media Foundation and UCL Institute of Education hosted a joint event to discuss research and industry perspectives on the use of personalisation in children’s products. The event was a follow-up on an earlier event organised by UCL IOE, which identified an urgent need for policy recommendations and regulations concerning children’s personalised products.

The event was sponsored by the Economic Social and Research Council that funds Dr Kucirkova’s project on Children’s Personalised Stories. Central focus of the event was the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that applies to all processors of personal data, which includes children’s media and publishing industry. Enforced by the Information Commissioner's Office, the new regulation starts on May 25, 2018 and entails some key changes to the transparency, compliance and punishment concerning personal data.

The event was moderated by Helen McAleer IP, Publishing and Production Consultant and CMF Board member, and featured four speakers. The audience was a roughly equal mix of academics and industry professionals.

Elizabeth Lomas, Senior Lecturer in Information Governance at UCL explained that a key change introduced by GDPR is the right to be forgotten and the requirement of privacy by design; at 16, any child can ask a publisher or data collector to delete all data about them.Although personal data represent an added value to many retailers, they can become “toxic” if producers don’t think about the consequences of data misuse. The more data producers collect about an individual, the more value they can add, but at the same time, the more complex it becomes to obtain users’ consent and to ensure the consent is ongoing over time. The law will now fall on the rights and interests of the child, and publishers or media companies will have no sympathy from the ombudsman if they’ve kept too much data about any individual.

John Kent, content strategist and producer, formerly of BBC and Kids Industries, outlined that personalisation in children’s industry is “massive”, and comes in various shapes and forms. Some platforms require parents’ consent (or entering the parents’ credit card details as is the case with Minecraft) before children can access the content. Other platforms are geared to adults but often accessed by children, exposing them to very inappropriate content (as shown by the recent case of YouTube‘s inappropriate cartoons). Thinking again about the rights of the child, it’s easier to open up content for adults, than to lock it down for kids.

Natalia Kucirkova, Senior Research Fellow at UCL IOE, talked about the value and challenges of personalisation in children’s learning. If applied strategically, personalisation can support children’s language skills and also modify parent-child conversation when sharing digital books together. It is important that publishers and designers reflect on the added value of personalisation to children’s learning outcomes. The child’s own preferences are, paradoxically, often left out from personalised products. Natalia advocates participatory, child-centred design, to discover what they really want: at the moment, educators are at odd with digital designers and publishers about the value and benefits of personalised books.

Irene Ng, Professor of Marketing and Service Systems at University of Warwick, an economist, and Chair of the HAT Foundation Group, described how the Internet is changing and how personal data controlled by organisations and governments could be controlled by individuals. The Hub of All Things (HAT) technology will eventually make it possible for children and their guardians/caregivers to have full control over their own data, by individuals being able to put their own personal data onto a private microserver, and then share it back to companies such as Facebook and Google. It was an exciting proposition from Irene Ng, and more information on how HAT and children’s digital personalisation could work together is in a recently published white paper by HAT and UCL IOE. More research and understanding is needed before the children’s media industry are likely to adopt HAT technology, but once the benefits are understood there is an opportunity for some early adopters to take this forward. All speakers agreed that research, industry and policy-makers need to work together to capitalise on personalisation’s potential for innovation.

The audience echoed the urgent need for policy recommendations and regulations identified also in an earlier event organised by UCL Institute of Education. Both events were sponsored by the Economic Social and Research Council as part of Dr Kucirkova’s project on Children’s Personalised Stories.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Children's Media and the Arts organised by the CMF can influence the code of practice on data protection and the new GDPR, so please do engage with the APPG through the CMF, and do contact any of the panellists if you want to know more. Don’t forget as well that the DCMS Green Paper on Internet Safety closes on the 7th December 2017.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)