Tuesday 8 September 2020 2:41 am

Let's hope tough new rules on children's online data collection deliver, and give parents peace of mind

From today, our children’s online privacy is protected by default. Literally. 

New rules will force companies to give children and young people automatic specific privacy protections. That’s 76 days, according to research, that neither you or they have to spend reading all those terms and conditions.

Thankfully, from now on, the so-called Age Appropriate Design Code means that our children’s data will not be fodder for any company that feels inclined to collect and cash in. 

A worldwide first, the code is the responsibility of the UK’s data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Children’s data is now subject to tougher new rules, and companies will be forced to provide a much higher level of privacy protection by default. 

In other words, after a 12-month bedding in, this will be a statutory full stop. Organisations are now required, obligated, and pinned down. No more empty gestures or pledges. Finally, after a long campaigning uphill climb, they’re being forced to do the right thing, with, often vulnerable, young people’s data. It is a rule that they cannot ignore.  

This is not simply a lone personal or company opinion. There’s an army of other respected campaigners who agree; 5rights, NSPCC and YoungMinds, to name just a few.

Alongside these organisations, Schillings has been pushing the regulators to build a wall around our kids’ data – a wall that cannot be climbed, scaled, or hacked. Trump would be in awe. 

One example of what the data wall should mean is that children will not, from now on, be nudged. Nudging is when suggested content pops up, like a politician visiting a marginal seat at election time. 

It is totally inappropriate that children are being deliberately enticed to go back online via these techniques, especially when sent well after bedtime. 

So in theory, you can now breathe easier, because your child’s private details should no longer be fuelling some big corporate’s data fishing frenzy. Your child, who may not even pick up the change, will not be so easily distracted, or encouraged to visit a questionable site. 

Up until now, it is parents or children themselves who have had to do all the data privacy donkey work. Some young minds are impressively already on the case, with one eight-year-old girl telling social research agency Family Kids & Youth: “We reported them quite a few times … They didn’t do anything about it”. 

Meanwhile, another nine-year-old girl adds: “I think they [social media companies] need to reassure us that we haven’t gone unnoticed when we do put in a complaint, because often you feel helpless … You want someone to be there for you.”

I have always strongly believed that our children deserve the best protection lawmakers can give them on and offline. The code has been slow to kick in, but to adapt the phrase from the 9-year-old, above: someone, at least, is beginning to be there.  

Here’s hoping the new design code not only delivers, but keeps our children’s wellbeing at the top of the priority list. 

Jenny Afia is head of the legal team at Schillings

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