The United Kingdom has implemented today a ground-breaking code of practice for how apps and other online services, treat children’s data.

Called the ‘Age Appropriate Design Code‘, it has been written into law as part of the 2018 Data Protection Act. Its central tenet is the requirement for websites and apps to take the “best interests” of their child users into account, or face fines of up to 4 percent of annual global turnover.

This has already resulted in some tech firms changing their policies. Earlier this week for example, Facebook confirmed that going forward it will require Instagram users to share their date of birth, in an effort to improve child safety.

Age Appropriate Design Code

This is because the ‘Age Appropriate Design Code’ places the onus on tech firms, to prove their services are not likely to be used at all by children.

If they cannot prove this, these tech firms now face a choice: they must make their entire offering compatible with the code, or attempt to identify younger users and treat them with care.

The code prohibits the use of “nudge” techniques aimed at encouraging children to give up more of their privacy than they would otherwise choose to, the Guardian reported.

The code also plus an onus tech firms to minimise the data they collect about children, and the code requires them to offer children privacy options that default to the maximum security.

“This shows tech companies are not exempt,” Baroness Beeban Kidron, who introduced the legislation that created the code, was quoted by the Guardian as saying.

“This exceptionalism that has defined the last decade, that they are different, just disappears in a puff of smoke when you say, ‘actually, this is business. And business has to be safe, equitable, run along rules that at a minimum protect vulnerable users,’” said Baroness Kidron.

Healthier data practices

“This code will lead to changes that will help empower both adults and children,” added Elizabeth Denham, the outgoing information commissioner. “One in five UK internet users are children, but they are using an internet that was not designed for them.

“In our own research conducted to inform the direction of the code, we heard children describing data practices as ‘nosy’, ‘rude’ and a ‘bit freaky’” Denham said.

“When my grandchildren are grown and have children of their own, the need to keep children safer online will be as second nature as the need to ensure they eat healthily, get a good education or buckle up in the back of a car,” said Denham.

Besides Facebook’s Instagram, other tech firms have also implemented their own changes, the Guardian reported.

TikTok has restricted the sharing options of younger users, and disabled notifications from the app after bedtime for those under 18.

Google meanwhile has a new policy now lets anyone under 18, or their parents, request the removal of images from search results, while the company has acted to disable entirely its “location history” service for children, which keeps a record of users’ movements.

YouTube has also updated its default privacy settings, and turned off the autoplay option by default for all users aged 13-17.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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