China Focus: Chinese Kids to Their Parents: No More Sharenting!

June 1, 2019
Editor: Sandy Zhu

SHANGHAI, June 1 (Xinhua) -- "If my face is still frequently exposed on my parents' social media, such as WeChat Moments, it might not be safe for me," 10-year-old Zhang Chuyi wrote to a congress of the Young Pioneers of China in Shanghai before International Children's Day, which falls on Saturday.

While adults understand the danger of information leaks in the digital era, children in China are also beginning to realize the importance of protecting their own privacy online, including their images.

Zhang and her peers hope that their parents will stop overexposing them online.

"If they want to share our images and privacy online, they need to obtain our permission first," she said.

Zhang is a fourth-grade student in a Shanghai elementary school. In her class of more than 30 students, more than 70 percent said their parents had shared things about them in a variety of ways.

A survey of students in third-grade, fourth-grade and fifth-grade in the school suggests that 80 percent of the children had been exposed by their parents online. Most of the children did not like their images or information being shared online.

Zhang first began to oppose "over-sharenting" when she found out that her parents had been sharing her photos and assignments online without her consent and had compared her with other children. She said she felt really embarrassed and stressed. She has started to worry more about the security risks it might cause.

"Faces and bodies are private, and should not be shared online at random," she said. "These days, faces can be used in many ways because of facial recognition."

Zhang's classmates agreed.

"I know that faces can be used to open and lock doors," said one of her classmates. "When my parents pay, they seem to be able to do so with their faces."

Zhang Chuyi's school had recently applied facial recognition technology in their school library. Although thinking such technology is quite convenient, she is also afraid that "bad guys" might take advantage of it and commit crimes by using her photos shared online by her parents.

China has a vast online population. The number of the country's online users hit 829 million by the end of last year, up 7.3 percent from the previous year, according to a report on China's Internet development released in February.

Meanwhile, facial recognition is expanding. China's Forward-looking Industry Institute said that the facial recognition market in China surpassed 1 billion yuan (about 145 million U.S. dollars) in 2016, and is expected to hit 5.1 billion yuan by 2021. The technology has been used in toilets, traffic lights, supermarkets, among others.

Although many children of Zhang's age still have no access to the Internet, they are well aware the risks certain online activities such as "over-sharenting" could bring and yearn for protection of their privacy not only in real life but also online.

"It should be noted that most Chinese children nowadays are born around 2010," said Zhou Jianjun, an official in charge of children's rights protection in Shanghai. Born and living in a digital era, children are very familiar with the Internet. "In fact, their consciousness of online privacy is even stronger than most adults," Zhou said.

In order to better ensure children's security, the Chinese government has been taking measures to strengthen children's protection online and is also trying to enhance children's awareness of online privacy by vigorously promoting security education. "This is partly the reason behind the awakening of children's online privacy consciousness and self-protection consciousness," Zhou said.

Zhang Chuyi's proposal caused quite a stir online.

"But my child is so wonderful that I cannot help myself," said a woman surnamed Zheng.

"It is important to obtain children's permission," said online user "Liudianshui." "We need to consider their feelings."

"Though we are not grown-ups, our rights still need to be respected," Zhang Chuyi said. "We are our own masters."

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