ICO to protect children from online harms

Written by Hannah McGrath
15/04/2019

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has set out measures to protect children online, including plans to discourage ‘nudge techniques’ such as likes on social media.

Under 16 new standards opened up to consultation, the data watchdog said the code would be the first of its kind to set out the protections expected of those responsible for designing, developing or providing online services likely to be accessed by under-18s.

The draft guidelines for ‘age appropriate design’ come as the UK government gears up to pass wide-reaching rules to regulate online harms, following mounting criticism of the impact of harmful content on social media firms such as Facebook and Instagram.

They would be introduced under the Data Protection Act 2018, meaning the ICO has the power to levy fines of £17 million, or up to four per cent of global turnover, for companies found to breach.

Amongst the conditions set to be imposed on platforms, the ICO will order children’s data privacy to be “built in and not bolted on”.

Social media firms and websites mist ensure that “high privacy” is the default setting for under 18s (unless there is a compelling reason not to); only the minimum amount of personal data should be collected and retained; children’s data should not be shared; and geolocation services should be switched off by default.

The draft code says that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration when designing and developing online services.

In addition, so-called “nudge techniques” should not be used to encourage children to provide unnecessary personal data, to weaken their privacy settings, or carry on using the service longer than they had intended.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “This is the connected generation, the internet and all its wonders are hardwired into their everyday lives – we shouldn’t have to prevent our children from being able to use it, but we must demand that they are protected when they do.”

The ICO consultation, which runs until 31 May, comes a week after the government issued a whitepaper outlining plans for a raft of new measures aimed at tackling online harms, including a new regulator, as well as holding individuals liable for harmful content.

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