The responsible use of data for and about children: treading carefully and ethically

Q&A with Stefaan G. Verhulst and Andrew Young …” working in collaboration with UNICEF on an initiative called Responsible Data for Children initiative (RD4C) . Its focus is on data – the risks it poses to children, as well as the opportunities it offers.

You have been working with UNICEF on the Responsible Data for Children initiative (RD4C). What is this and why do we need to be talking more about ‘responsible data’?

To date, the relationship between the datafication of everyday life and child welfare has been under-explored, both by researchers in data ethics and those who work to advance the rights of children. This neglect is a lost opportunity, and also poses a risk to children.

Today’s children are the first generation to grow up amid the rapid datafication of virtually every aspect of social, cultural, political and economic life. This alone calls for greater scrutiny of the role played by data. An entire generation is being datafied, often starting before birth. Every year the average child will have more data collected about them in their lifetime than would a similar child born any year prior. Ironically, humanitarian and development organizations working with children are themselves among the key actors contributing to the increased collection of data. These organizations rely on a wide range of technologies, including biometrics, digital identity systems, remote-sensing technologies, mobile and social media messaging apps, and administrative data systems. The data generated by these tools and platforms inevitably includes potentially sensitive PII data (personally identifiable information) and DII data (demographically identifiable information). All of this begs much closer scrutiny, and a more systematic framework to guide how child-related data is collected, stored, and used.

Towards this aim, we have also been working with the Data for Children Collaborative, based in Edinburgh in establishing innovative and ethical practices around the use of data to improve the lives of children worldwide….(More)”.