Protect your pixels: Reflecting on my child’s journey from school to young adulthood.

As we bid farewell to 2023, it not only marks the conclusion of another year but symbolises a transformative era for my family. My child (“Gen Zer”) is embarking on…...
January 16, 2024
by pixevety

As we bid farewell to 2023, it not only marks the conclusion of another year but symbolises a transformative era for my family.

My child (“Gen Zer”) is embarking on a journey from school to the next chapter of her life, whether it be higher education or employment. In contemplating this transition, I reflect on research stating GenZ is likely to be the most photographed generation of our time and am concerned about the control and autonomy she will continue to have over her digital footprint as a young adult stepping into the vast expanse of the world.

Recalling past tales of young individuals facing catastrophic career consequences due to having a poor online presence, and a recent surge in cyber-attacks, I find myself pondering: Did her school adequately educate her on safeguarding her digital identity before she departed? Will her future employer or university be as diligent in protecting her photos and images? Will they extend the same guidance and choices she enjoyed in school, or will the relentless pace of adult life erode the efforts invested in securing her online identity during her formative years?

Having devoted my career to online child image protection, this shift in my daughter’s life stage has not diminished my enthusiasm for shielding her photos, and those of other young people. If anything, the uncertainty surrounding her entry into adulthood has only reignited my commitment to educate young people about the critical importance of preserving their online identity for their safety.

Data Privacy in the Age of Gen Z

Gen Z, defined as the first true digital natives, is expected to experience a growth era in 2024, focusing on self-improvement and development. My daughter, part of the Class of 2023, and her peers envision a year filled with good health, exploration of potential career paths, and perhaps some overseas travel. However, also regarded as digital pioneers, how will their existing digital footprint and prowess shape or impact their prospects?

It has been said that this generation who grew up in a digital environment may undergo an awakening, and start to challenge social media platforms, organisations, and even their own parents, who may have unwittingly mishandled their childhood images.

In a recent survey, Gen Z ranked data privacy 5th out of 24 potential options when asked about issues essential for a better world. Surprisingly, this placed privacy ahead of concerns like war, judicial reform, and healthcare access. Perhaps this shift in priorities stems from their constant engagement in social media, where sharing data inadvertently sacrifices privacy for a better online experience.

I see protecting a young person’s digital footprint as comparable to choosing your own adventure. For those of my generation (Gen X) who understand my reminiscing over the “Choose your own adventure” books, there was a thrill in navigating different paths forward in life and to control outcomes without impacting real life. It was all fun and make believe. Today’s youth, however, face the perpetual challenge of a “choosing your own adventure” experience every time they go online, with the digital realm offering limited options to backtrack and explore new paths to reduce outcome risk.

This is why it’s even more important for young people to be educated on managing their digital footprints before entering adulthood.

2024: Preserving pixels – The role of schools and universities

Hopes for 2024:

Emphasising the importance of educating kids and young adults in managing their digital footprint, I believe schools and universities need to play a pivotal role in counselling and educating students in this space. As we anticipate the initiation of new potentially invasive online tools (i.e. age verification/digital ID) and school-wide consent education programs, I hope these initiatives will incorporate concepts of digital image identity, protection.

Furthermore, I aspire to see increased collaboration between schools, universities, and employers to uphold a unified commitment to safeguarding the digital footprints of young adults. In this envisioned future, programs focused on digital consent, image protection, and online safety would be integral components of induction curricula.

I also hope for a greater awareness and advocacy surrounding the importance of data privacy, not only among Gen Z but across society. Recognising the value of personal information and the potential implications of its misuse should become a shared responsibility, leading to the establishment of robust ethical standards in the digital landscape.

Schools and universities must start to use the privacy enhancing technology that is now available to manage student privacy and ensure the implementation of robust privacy measures more effectively. This will involve the integration of cutting-edge platforms designed to safeguard sensitive information, fostering a secure environment for students and staff alike. The advantages a school or and university can get from implementing technology that delivers real-time data on consent preferences of students and/or parents, for example, particularly when using and publishing photos, is undeniable. Such systems enable staff and teachers to dynamically adjust their media management practices before sharing, thereby minimizing potential risk of harm.

Schools and universities can then become pioneers in privacy management, setting industry standards for ethical data usage. Fostering a holistic approach to digital privacy, emphasizing not only individual responsibility but also the collective commitment of educational institutions to prioritise and protect the privacy of everyone within their community.

To sum up, as we look ahead to 2024, my aspiration for my daughter’s world is a societal culture of heightened digital literacy and responsibility for young people. I hope to witness proactive integration of digital image identity protection measures that ensure students (school or tertiary) receive comprehensive guidance on how to navigate the complexities of their online presence with the ultimate aim to “protect their pixels” to protect their future.

I am Colin Anson, the CEO and Co-Founder of pixevety. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on LinkedIn with your thoughts and feedback.

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