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Parents are giving tons of their kids’ personal data away — and the long-term effects aren’t yet known

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On average, parents will post more than 1,000 images of their children online before they’re old enough to have their own social media accounts, according to a new report on the digital lives of kids.

And by 18, those kids will have created upward of 70,000 posts themselves.

But the unknown consequences of such an unprecedented “digital footprint” — which may start even before a child is born, with proud parents-to-be posting ultrasounds online — means there’s a generation of youth serving as the proverbial “the canary in the coalmine” for wider society when it comes to the issue of mass personal data management.

A child’s digital footprint may come into existence before they’re born — when their parents post their ultrasounds online. (mylissa/Wikimedia Commons/Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Children are being “datafied” from birth, the report explains, and it’s not just via social media or online. It’s also happening in their homes and out in public. 

“We simply do not know what the consequences of all this information about our children will be,” said Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner of England, whose office published the report. 

The report — entitled Who knows what about me? — raises red flags about the amount of personal data children and their parents are giving away, warning that this collection of data could one day influence everything from which universities people are accepted to, the success of their job applications, and even their access to credit or ability to get a mortgage.

Children’s apps violate privacy laws

There are also concerns on this side of the Atlantic. 

According to Matthew Johnson, director of education for MediaSmarts, which develops digital and media literacy programs, there are a number of reasons to be particularly concerned about data collection and children.

Johnson points to a recent study that found a majority of free children’s apps in the Google Play store violated U.S. privacy laws if their default settings were left unchanged.

On top of the vast amount of data being collected on social media and through kids’ apps, the report also warns that children’s data is collected through search engines, smart speakers, connected toys and connected baby monitors. Just because a product is designed to be baby-proof doesn’t mean that it has been designed to protect the data of that child.

Another consideration is all of the information that is tracked outside of the home.

The U.K. report warns that children’s data is routinely being collected through location-tracking devices, school databases and classroom apps, even things as seemingly innocuous as retail loyalty programs and transit passes.

While there may be advantages that come from sharing personal information with public-sector organizations — for the purpose of health care or education, for example — the report cautions that there are “growing concerns in the academic and policy communities that our trust in public services with respect to children’s data is misplaced.”

There is no necessary reason, it argues, to believe public-sector bodies are “any better or worse than commercial organizations in terms of the standards they adhere to when handling children’s data.”

Informed choices

Short of dumping our devices in the lake and moving to a remote, off-grid island, what are concerned parents to do? The big takeaway is the need to make sure children can make informed choices about the data they are giving away.

And with younger children, who might not be old enough to make an informed choice, or even be the ones posting online, it’s of equal importance that parents are fully aware of the repercussions of their actions.

“Because most people have a fairly poor understanding of how the data economy works, parents don’t generally have the information they need to genuinely consent to the terms of service,” said Johnson. “And of course, the longer data brokers have to build a profile of you, the more influence it will have throughout your life.”

Smart figures, trading cards and apps are integrated in Lightseekers, billed in 2017 as the next generation of connected play. A new report warns that besides social media and apps, connected toys may also be collecting data about children. (Adam Hunger/Associated Press)

Things could be changing.

A 2018 study entitled “The Digital Well-Being of Canadian Families” found that while roughly four in 10 Canadian parents post photos of their children once or month or more, one quarter say they never post photos of their children and one-third say they hardly ever do.

As the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal demonstrated, all the distinct crumbs of data we leave behind can be pieced together to form alarmingly accurate profiles.

It revealed that seemingly inane data, such as whether someone had “liked” Facebook pages for Hello Kitty, pizza, or The Daily Show, can sketch a profile that can then be targeted with tailored messages, potentially manipulating people’s political decisions.

A boy poses with a mobile phone displaying the augmented reality mobile game Pokemon Go, which operates using location tracking. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

And what it further demonstrates is that it’s vital that all of us — particularly young people — learn more about “how we pay for services with our data, how that data is used to profile and advertise to us, and how our lives are increasingly being shaped both online and offline by algorithms,” said Johnson.

After all, if such comprehensive profiles can be stitched together based on the data collected over a mere decade of social media use, what happens when the same kind of data collection has been in place for someone’s entire life? 

Or, in the case of in-utero scans posted online, from six months before they’re even born.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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