WH&Y authors: Doctor Teresa Swist

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  • National laws and international agreements highlight the need to not only protect young people’s privacy and data, but encourage their participation in how these practices progress.
  • Emerging technologies are changing the way young people’s data is being collected. This brings new challenges and opportunities in how we understand ‘privacy’ across personal and public spheres.
  • To better understand data collection and privacy in the digital age, and how it can enhance young people’s health and wellbeing, we must engage with young people and their parents and guardians, as well as professionals from government, not-for-profit, and commercial sectors.


The rights of Australian teenagers in relation to privacy and data collection are informed by national regulations and international agreements. These guidelines offer adults not only an understanding of how young people’s privacy and data can be protected, but also an understanding of their own responsibilities when it comes to supporting young people’s current and future decision-making.

At the national level, theAustralian Privacy Act (Australian Government 2019)1 specifies the following:

  • When handling the personal information of a person under 18, an organisation should decide an individual’s ‘capacity to consent’ (that is, their ability to make their own privacy decision) on a case-by-case basis.

  • A person aged under 18 has the ‘capacity to consent’ (that is, make their own privacy decision) if they understand how their data will be utilised.

  • In general, organisations can assume that a young person aged over 15 has capacity to consent. If unsure, a parent or guardian should consent on their behalf.

Internationally, there are increased calls to support children’s rights in relation to privacy and data collection in the digital age. The 'Responsible Data for Children’ initiative has developed a set of practices and principles for organisations and institutions to support responsible data governance and defend children’s rights (Young, Campo, & Veerulst 20192). Professionals from government, non-profit and commercial sectors therefore need to consider how their organisational systems and technologies are enabling or constraining teenager’s rights in relation to data collection and privacy.


Increasing awareness of young people’s rights in relation to privacy and data collection is a societal responsibility. We need collaboration between young people, their families and communities, and organisations so we can better address the challenges. 

Key issues for children’s rights in a ‘Big Data World’ (Berman & Albright, 20173) span complex and interrelated issues, such as:

  • children’s digital identity and lifecourse; 
  • issues around anonymity and re-identification;
  • children’s understanding and consent about how their data is used and stored; 
  • fragmented ownership of data and regulations that can affect future harm and benefits; and
  • the potential for data-driven decision-making to replace engagement with children.


Data-driven technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), can now track children’s online activities based on group characteristics such as their cultural background, location, gender, and age. This has the potential to profile or discriminate against specific groups of children (Young, 20204)

Biometric technologies such as facial and voice recognition are used by social media platforms and mobile devices to tag children’s photos, or communicate with them. Corporations should embed child-rights considerations into their processes (Nyst 20175)

Both children and their parents may lack the tools and skills they need to understand data collection and how to exercise their rights. Equally, there is evidence to suggest that, in certain contexts, the need for parental consent may limit children’s access to information and freedom of expression (de Azevedo Cunha, 20176).

Raising awareness of young people’s rights in relation to privacy and data collection requires a collective effort with a range of communities and sectors.

About The Authors


Dr Teresa Swist is Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney Universi...



  1. Australian Government (2019). Your privacy rights. Children and young people. Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. Retrieved from https://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/your-privacy-rights/children-and-young-people/  

  2. Young, A., Campo, S., Verhulst S. G. (2019) Responsible data for children. Synthesis Report.UNICEF, TheGovLab. https://rd4c.org/files/rd4c-report-final.pdf 

  3. Berman, G. & Albright, K. (2017) Children and the Data Cycle: Rights and Ethics in a Big Data World. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f3a1/add163e33b2a335d098498ca0c1845cdfa97.pdf 

  4. Young, A. (2020) Responsible group data for children. Issue brief no. 4. Office of Global Insight and Policy. UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/globalinsight/media/1251/file/UNICEF-Global-Insight-DataGov-group-data-issue-brief-2020.pdf

  5. Nyst, C. (2017). Privacy, Protection of Personal Information and Reputation. Discussion Paper Sries: Childrne’s Rights and Business in a Digital world. UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/csr/css/UNICEF_CRB_Digital_World_Series_PRIVACY.pdf
  6. de Azevedo Cunha, M. V. (2017) Child Privacy in the Age of Web 2.0 and 3.0: Challenges and opportunities for policy. https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/Child_privacy_challenges_opportunities.pdf