ICO launches new rules to protect children online

A statutory code requiring organisations to provide better online privacy protections for children comes into force today, triggering the start of a 12-month transition period.

The Age Appropriate Design Code or Children’s Code applies to organisations providing online services and products likely to be accessed by children up to age 18, and gives organisations a year to make the necessary changes to put children’s privacy at the heart of their design.

The code sets out 15 standards for designers of online services and products and how they should comply with data protection law. It will require digital services to automatically provide children with a built-in baseline of data protection whenever they download a new app, game or visit a website.

All the major social media and online services used by children in the UK will need to conform to the code.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “A generation from now we will all be astonished that there was ever a time when there wasn’t specific regulation to protect kids online - it will be as normal as putting on a seatbelt.

“This code makes clear that kids are not like adults online, and their data needs greater protections - we want children to be online, learning and playing and experiencing the world, but with the right protections in place."

Denham added: “We do understand that companies, particularly small businesses, will need support to comply with the code and that’s why we have taken the decision to give businesses a year to prepare, and why we’re offering help and support.”

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is calling on organisations to get in touch to highlight the extra help they may need to understand the new code. Based on feedback, the regulator is spending the next year developing a tailored package of support to help organisations adapt their online products and services before 2 September 2021.

The code is risk based, which means it does not apply to all organisations in the same way. Those responsible for designing, developing or providing online services - like apps, connected toys, social media platforms, online games, educational websites and streaming services that use, analyse and profile children’s data - are likely to have to do more to conform to the code.

The ICO’s new hub is a starting point for all those responsible to get the necessary help and support. A series of webinars, held throughout September, will support members of trade associations in the gaming, video streaming, social media and connected toys sectors.

The ICO is also interested in hearing from innovators concentrating on personal data projects dealing with the issues posed by the implementation of the Children’s Code. It is inviting organisations to apply for places in its free regulatory sandbox.

This is designed to support organisations using personal data to develop innovative products and services and accepts applications from all types of organisations from startups to large organisations, across private, public and voluntary sectors.

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