How to work with young people in Citizen Science? - Complying with privacy laws and parental consent requirements in Apps


In many Citizen Science Apps, participants are younger than 16 or 18 years of age. From educational school-based projects to including the youth in workshops, feedback, or data collection: the engagement of younger people is often at the core of Citizen Science projects. To invite underaged children to be active in a digital tool like Citizen Science Apps requires to have extended measures in place. There are national and international requirements, legal frameworks, and even technical aspects to be considered.

On SPOTTERON, all Citizen Science projects can now comfortably include the younger generation officially in their Apps. Together with our consortium partners in the EU Horizon project "YouCount," we have developed a comprehensive system for user account registration to comply with national age limits and parental/guardian consent.

Legal Frameworks for Youth Participation in Citizen Science

There are many legal requirements with international and national privacy and online protection frameworks, like the EU GDPR, Australia's APP, and others, especially when considering minors' signup and data processing. One fundamental component of all the frameworks is protecting children in the digital world and requiring parental/guardian consent for participation.

Complying with national and international laws makes it necessary to "be able to show that there are measures in place" for under-aged users, both for us as a platform and for a project's team as the media holder/content-responsible party.

Having the measures in place: the new Citizen Science App Parental/guardian consent system

To make Citizen Science Apps able to have those measures in place, we have created a new dynamic consent system for user account creation for parental/guardian consent.

The system calculates a user's current age based on the provided birthday at the user account registration. In the background, a data table matches the user's age with the legal capacity limit of a user's country of residence to display a new mandatory checkbox, along with explanations and information for parents/guardians.
Parents or a user's guardian can consent that the minor is allowed to participate in the project and to create a user account.

To add an additional layer of protection, the birthday/age of a user is only present at the account registration, and a user's age is not shown to others in the Citizen Science App's community.

The new consent system makes it lawfully possible to, e.g., recruit school classes or hold workshops with Apps involved and work with youth officially within a project.
And even in the case, that younger people are not a directly involved target group: the implemented parental/guardian consent system allows a Citizen Science project to be still on the side of legal compliance with privacy frameworks. 

On the SPOTTERON platform, every Citizen Science project is now able to demonstrate that they have the required measures in place. With the new consent system for youth participation, the project's team can now show review boards, institutional directors, GDPR data privacy officers, or other involved decision-makers that their Citizen Science App has the necessary measures to identify under-aged users and a mandatory informed consent for parents/guardians in place.

Ethics for youth participation in Citizen Science

Implementing the feature for all Citizen Science Apps on the SPOTTERON Platform is not only necessary to fulfilling national laws at a user's origin but also having such systems available means a practical approach to quality ethics in a project. Besides enabling the possibility to work with school classes, it extends to having younger people officially use your apps, which is - let's face it - a reality in an open online world and vital in Citizen Science.

Thank you for all the Citizen Science 2022!
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Sunday, 21 April 2024

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