Social media sites, online games and streaming services used by children will soon have to abide by a new privacy code set by the UK’s data watchdog. The code’s declared aim is minimising the amount of data that companies harvest from users who are under 18, and giving children and their parents more control over the quantity and type of data collected as they use certain services or devices.
At present, children’s data is routinely being used in a way that puts them at risk of grooming and sexual abuse. On the biggest social networks, children are offered up to abusers by friend suggestion algorithms, and within a few clicks those young people can be contacted and groomed. Algorithms also push self-harm and suicide content at already vulnerable young people, further damaging their wellbeing and risking devastating consequences. Despite the clear and present dangers their platforms present, many social media sites have failed to act. Last week’s code, instigated by Baroness Kidron’s tireless dedication, forces them to change their ways.
It is worth noting that this code has been a long time coming. A quick glance of the online child crime figures will make anyone realise that action to keep children safe cannot come quickly enough. Last year alone, a NSPCC survey found 200,000 young people may have been groomed on social networks.
The Information Commissioner’s Office – the UK’s data privacy regulator – published the new code of conduct last Wednesday 22nd January, after a draft which was first revealed last April. It hopes the changes will come into force by autumn 2021, once Parliament approves it, with large fines for breaches.
The code includes a list of 15 standards that companies behind online services are expected to comply with to protect children’s privacy.
Examples of online services which are included are toys which are connected to the internet, apps, social media platforms, online games, educational websites and streaming service.
The standards include:
- Location settings that would allow a child’s location to be shared should be switched off by default
- Privacy settings to be set to high by default and nudge techniques to encourage children to weaken their settings should not be used
The new standards follow concerns over young people suffering from grooming by predators, data misuse, problem gambling and access to damaging content which could affect their mental health.
However, Ian Soars, Fegans’ CEO, commented: “This new code to protect children online is transformational in terms of risk from adults abusing minors. The fact online data companies will no longer be able to use algorithms to send under 18s data that could led to harm is much needed and welcome. Having devices set to high protection defaults will make it easier for parents meaning they won’t have to go through so many tick box options on lots of different websites to keep their children safe.
“But many huge issues faced by most children on social media aren’t addressed at all…the malign body awareness issues pushed by influencers, grim and relentless bullying and chatrooms on abuse, self-harm, suicide and eating disorder all need to be addressed.
“A welcome start, but much, much, more needs to be done to protect all our children.”
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