New ICO Guidelines for Child Privacy: What It Means for Social Media

New ICO Guidelines for Child Privacy

On 22 Jan. 2020, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) released a set of transformative design standards. The Age Appropriate Design Code intends to protect the privacy of children as they browse the internet. Regulators started work on these procedures in 2018, and the finalized rules will take full effect in the fall of 2021.

Here’s what people need to know about the ICO Guidelines and what they mean for social media and online privacy in general.

Why It’s Necessary

Data is a central component of all online activity.  The companies that receive this knowledge then use it in a variety of ways. Therefore, it’s essential to put measures in place to protect vulnerable individuals — primarily when 92% of children in the U.K. use the internet. The websites they browse, the online games they play and the apps they download all collect information about them. It’s only a matter of time before even younger children are exposed.

children's online privacy protection act

Hackers use a creative variety of online criminal activities to gather personal information and use it for their own profit. Unfortunately, kids are easy targets here. They’re less educated on these matters than adults, so they tap links and download files without a second thought. As many are aware, such blind actions can put users at risk. This is where these procedures come in to play to protect child privacy.

The ICO’s code includes 15 standards that businesses need to adhere to by late 2021. Essentially, this is an effort to limit data collection from those under the age of 18. When these rules are implemented, websites and apps accessed by children will automatically switch on “high privacy” settings.

The 15 Standards

These points aim to cover several bases. The ICO’s official report lets people analyze them word for word. To sum it up, each of the 15 measures emphasizes an area in need of improvement. These include transparency, parental controls, geolocation and more. In some cases, like the “best interests of the child,” the ICO is required by law to include specific provisions.

In general, each works to protect kids from sharing too much information on the web. Some focus on individual preventions, like age-limits and wireless toys. Overall, each part of the code addresses a variety of concerns.

How It Affects Social Media

child privacy online

Like any other platform, social media uses data in several ways, and they don’t often disclose this directly. The main reason is to improve the user experience. For example, Twitter accounts are automatically public, which means everyone sees a user’s posts. To switch this off, people must dig into the settings. Social media websites also keep track of location, interests and more. Those who want to limit this access will again have to make adjustments to their accounts.

Under this code, social media businesses that have young audiences will need to fix this. When someone sets up a new account, those privacy settings are automatically turned on. This incentive helps protect those who use social media but aren’t aware of its implications concerning data use.

Furthermore, these efforts prevent platforms from pushing users to take a specific action. Called “nudge techniques,” these include prompts or pop-ups that ask for even more information. Social media websites may use features like this to target advertisements.

What’s to Come

ICO Guidelines for Child Privacy

The ICO began to develop the Age Appropriate Design Code a few years ago. Since then, it’s gone under rigorous alterations. Officials also conducted a public survey to gauge opinions on child privacy. A few weeks ago, the ICO released its final version of the provisions. Next, this code will head to Parliament for 40 sitting days. With no objections, these regulations will take 21 days to become standard practice.

That said, a transition period of 12 months still needs to take place. This time allows companies to adjust and conform properly. Throughout that year, social media websites will need to update their policies accordingly. While this code isn’t a law, it’s still a standard that platforms need to meet.

Proper Online Privacy Regulations Are Key

Today, children in a range of ages have access to the internet. Current measures aren’t enough to protect young people from certain online dangers. These include phishing scams and malware. Many adults aren’t aware of these risks, so it’s essential to consider their potential concerning kids.

About the Author

With an interest in learning and educational advancements for students of all ages, Alyssa Abel writes for an audience of educators, parents and students alike. Follow more of her work on her blog, Syllabusy.