When we think about the ways in which children’s data is collected and used we need to start from the very beginning and look at the rapid growth in use of pregnancy apps. Today, a great majority of parents download one or more of these apps on their phones and other technologies to monitor, track and share the progress of their pregnancy. These apps, which seem simultaneously playful and useful, enable the collection and use of large quantities of personal information, from the number of kicks and heartrate to what the mother is eating during pregnancy. Fascinated by the privacy implications intrinsic to these technologies, I carried out a piece of research, which has recently been published in the “Infancy Online” Special Issue of the Journal Social Media and Society. The article is titled BabyVeillance? Expecting Parents, Online Surveillance and the Cultural Specificity of Pregnancy Apps.
The research consisted in the analysis and comparison of the 10 most reviewed pregnancy apps amongst UK and US users at the beginning of 2016, and involved a textual analysis of their promotional descriptions, data policies, and of more than 3,570 reviewers’ comments. The research revealed that, whilst most apps are very different from one another as they rely on different business models, advisory boards, community networks etc, they share a fundamental similarity: a profound discursive ambiguity in their data policies. This ambiguity I found is reflected in the type of language used within the “terms and conditions”, which does not provide important information or instructions on how the data is shared and used, and how parents can opt out from specific services. The article shows that even when proactively reading the data policy of a given app parents have no means to gain control over the way in which their data is used and passed over. It also shows that, once parents register their profiles it is very difficult (and at times impossible) to completely “opt out” from the services. This ambiguity, I conclude leads to a situation whereby digital participation is no longer voluntary but coerced. You can read the full article, which is Open access, here.