Over half of local websites targeted at children collect users’ personal data, a study by Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog has found.

Sixty percent of “child-friendly” sites asked for children’s home addresses whilst 73 percent requested phone numbers—far higher than the global averages of 19 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

The study, carried out by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD), also found that 49 percent of children’s websites wrote in their privacy policies that they might share users’ personal data with third parties.

Journalist Akina Fong Kin-yee promoting the “Stay Smart – Mind Your Digital Footprint” video. Photo: PCPD.

The study is part of the 2015 global Privacy Sweep initiative organized by Global Privacy Enforcement Network. With this year’s theme of children’s privacy, twenty-nine privacy enforcement authorities around the world investigated mobile applications and websites from 11 to 15 May.

The PCPD findings also showed that 36 percent of websites sought children’s HKID numbers or information regarding their parents and friends. Only 4 percent of websites provided an easy means to delete a child’s account—significantly lower than the 29 percent global average.

Privacy Commisioner for Personal Data Stephen Wong Kai-yi said that the collection of personal data from young children may be considered unfair according to the Hong Kong Personal Data Privacy Ordinance.

Stephen Wong Kai-yi, Privacy Commisioner for Personal Data. Photo: news.gov.hk.

A study commissioned by the PCPD in May showed that parents and teachers are insufficiently aware of children’s privacy issues.Wong encouraged parents and teachers to become role models by consulting their friends or third parties before sharing their personal data.

He also said that children’s interests should be taken into account when sharing their information, such as photographs and examination results. “Parents and teachers are encouraged to discuss with [children] frequently and frankly on their online practices,” Wong adds.

As a follow-up on the study, the PCPD published a guide to provide tips for parents and teachers.

This year’s study assessed 45 local mobile applications and websites targeted at children. This is the third year for PCPD to take part in the global Privacy Sweep initiative.

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Koel Chu

Koel Chu is a second-year journalism and fine arts student at the University of Hong Kong. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Koel is interested in the arts and urban design. She interned at China Radio International in Beijing and, at her university, she also works as Vice-President of Branding and Marketing in AIESEC, the largest youth-run organisation in the world.