Information Commissioner to launch online child protection code

Charities including Barnardo’s, Girlguiding and Children England have helped inform the code, which the Information Commissioner’s Office hopes will help protect children’s data and privacy.

Joe Lepper | 15th Apr 19

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is looking to launch an online child protection code of practice, which has been developed with input from charities.

The Age-appropriate design: a code of practice for online services lays out 16 standards for digital firms to ensure children are safe online.

These include ensuring the best interests for the child are the primary consideration for online services that are likely to be accessed by a child.

The different ages of children viewing content need to be considered and content and digital products need to be transparent, with clear privacy information that includes “additional specific bite-sized explanations about personal data.

Children’s personal data must kept safe and not be used in a way that is detrimental to their wellbeing, are among other standards covered in the code, says the code from the Information Commissioner.

Data protection impact assessments should also be carried out to assess and mitigate risks to children.

High privacy

In addition, default settings should be set to ‘high privacy’ and geo-location options turned off to add further protection.

Parental controls are also kept in check through the code. It is recommending that if parents are able to monitor activity that there is an obvious sign to the child that this is taking place.

Nudge techniques, that encourage children to provide unnecessary personal data should also not be used. The code also wants tech firms not to use such techniques, that can include ‘likes’ on Facebook, as a way of trying to keep a child online for longer.

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, 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. This code does that.”

The code has been created after gathering evidence and views from charities, app developers, designers, academics, parents and children.

Consultation launch

A consultation by the Information Commissioner around the code has opened and runs until 31 May. A final version will be laid before Parliament and is expected to come into effect later this year.

Among those to give evidence to the ICO around the proposed code was children’s charity Barnardo’s, which is particularly keen to ensure that privacy settings are set high by default.

The consultation around the ICO code comes shortly after the launch of a government online harms white paper.

This white paper backs long running safeguarding charities’ calls for tougher powers to ensure children are protected online. It signals the government’s intention to create an independent watchdog, with the power to fine companies and force internet service providers to block sites that contain harmful content.

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