It’s safe to say 2017 was the year Silicon Valley finally acknowledged that kids were on the internet. Although developers have done a remarkable job of ignoring the existence of kids online (“tick a box to let us know if you’re over 13″), it was inevitable that sheer demographics would win—over the last seven years, kids’ digital screen time has increased tenfold.
There were several key moments during 2017 that showed just how much the media spotlight was focusing on this topic:
The first civil class action suit filed around kids digital privacy in the US
PwC releasing an inaugural report showing just how much ad spend is shifting from kids TV to digital platforms
The explosion (there is no other word for it) of coverage around YouTube’s problems around kids content and the resulting advertiser retreat
Facebook acknowledging that they need to engage under-13s and announcing Messenger Kids
Germany banning smartwatches for kids
Calls by the UK government to enforce child-safety within mainstream social platforms
Considering all of these developments only happened in the second half of the year, it’s clear that the kids audience is going to be a major discussion in 2018. And here are a few predictions to mull over.
- The problems with YouTube and kids will continue
This topic has generally been misunderstood as a content problem—in reality, it’s an infrastructure issue. YouTube is now a legacy platform, reflecting a different time and audience. YouTube (and other social platforms) was built with assumptions of an adult user base, with a business model (and organizational culture) focused on data collection and automation. There are calls for the main platforms to adopt a child-safe approach. This is noble but flawed. Entirely new platforms are required.
- Silicon Valley brands will become increasingly unpopular with parents
One of the most fascinating aspects of Facebook’s Messenger Kids announcement was the proliferation of negative responses. Anecdotally (and ironically), some of the most negative reactions from the announcement came from parents who had previously been fairly hands-off with their digital oversight. Facebook has such brand recognition with parents that it activated a lot of fears based on what they now understand the platform to represent. For example, the rumors of FB eavesdropping on your conversations.
- More scrutiny on the technology underpinning kids content
Adtech companies will come under scrutiny for the amount of data they are inadvertently capturing on kids. This is a major issue and growing, and was a driver of the data privacy class action lawsuit seen in 2017.
- All large consumer apps will begin to adopt an under-13 strategy as standard
For many companies, it’s been an open secret about the number of kids driving their platform. Facebook’s acquisition of TBH in 2017 and launch of Messenger Kids confirmed this further. The real disruption in digital behavior is happening below the age radar. 2018 will see much greater deliberate, legal under-13 support for major consumer releases.
- Media companies will realize they need a digital network model to replace TV
For media companies in the kids space, many of which have lost the ad battle to Google and Facebook in other audiences, seeing the same players moving toward this last enclave must send shivers into executive offices. Compounding this issue is the realization that digital business models are different to TV and they simply don’t have enough content to replace falling TV revenue. This will force them to adopt network content models. M&A seems inevitable.
- The battle for home AI becomes a battle about access for kids
The race for control of home AI is well documented. But increasingly Amazon and Google (eventually Apple) are realizing that a huge percentage of the users of these devices are kids. Watch for a far greater emphasis on family skills and interaction to roll out in 2018.
- More data privacy laws for kids, not less
Between COPPA and GDPR-K, the digital rights of a child are more defined than ever before. With increasing visibility on this topic, more far-reaching country-specific laws will emerge in 2018, covering IoT security, social platform obligations and deletion rights. Additionally, watch for the definition of a child to get older. Germany and France have both recently declared that the digital age of a child (under GDPR-K) will be 16 (in contrast to the age of 13 in the US).
- Kids data privacy lawsuits will begin in Europe (and more will be filed in the US)
GDPR (the EU’s data privacy law) allows civil lawsuits. Considering how complicated the digital kids landscape in Europe has become (see prediction 7), it seems like an obvious target. In the US, the exponential growth in media coverage can only have given more encouragement to the lawsuits filed earlier in 2017.
- The conversation will shift from automation to curation
For anyone operating in the adult media or technology sector, the notion of manual review sounds insane. However, scaling kids digital businesses require a unique combination of automation combined with human curation. That is a challenging concept for many Silicon Valley engineers to grasp. Parenting is hard. Internet parenting is no easier. YouTube’s announcement about boosting their team of content moderators is just the beginning.
- Investors realize that the “zero-data” kids infrastructure is a huge opportunity
In 2017, PwC called out the kids privacy-based digital ad market as one of the fastest growing in the world. As more digital privacy law for kids gets passed, you’ll see more investments in the infrastructure required to support the fastest growing audience segment of the internet.