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New Children’s Code is a welcome step towards protecting children online, says BPS

02 September 2021

The BPS has responded to the new Children’s Code from the Information Commissioner’s Office which comes into force today.

The code aims to create ‘a better internet for children’ via a code of practice for online services, such as apps, online games, and web and social media sites likely to be accessed by children.

With concern about the harm to children’s physical, emotional and financial wellbeing from the use of online services, the BPS is pleased to see the implementation of the new code of practice, but wants more clarity around data regulation in practice to protect children’s emotional wellbeing.

Dr Linda Kaye, chair of the BPS’ Cyberpsychology section, said:

“It is great to see that children's rights online are being taken seriously by the UK Children's Code. One of the main challenges of such initiatives is the global nature of the Internet and the fact that regulation usually operates only at a national level.

However, it is encouraging to see that some technology companies are already pledging changes in the interests of children's privacy and protection.

Google has pledged to stop targeted ads to under 18s, Instagram will not allow unknown adults to message under 18s and TikTok users under 16 will have private by default accounts.

These are all encouraging examples of how technology companies have ways of helping protect young people. This does not preclude the issues in practice however, in which age verification will remain an ongoing challenge to regulate.

Additionally, online data of young users is not always just generated by young users themselves, and can be generated by the digital footprints that others may forge for them.

It remains to be seen how this sort of data can be regulated when it may not originate from children themselves.

I'm glad to see that child's rights are front-and-centre in policy discussions on data privacy, but there remain a number of ongoing issues which will require cooperation from relevant stakeholders on how these may always be successfully implemented.”

Professor Sonia Livingstone, whose work focuses on children's rights in the digital age, added:

“While the GDPR encompasses many excellent principles and practices to ensure that the regulation of data protects people’s privacy in the digital age, it said very little about children, even though their data is now taken from them and exploited even before birth, and though their capacity to consent or exercise their data subject rights is very different from that of adults.

The Age Appropriate Design Code puts this right, articulating clearly how the GDPR applies to children, recognising the evolving capacities of children and the imperative to prioritise their best interests, and carrying the force of law.

What’s interesting is that, perhaps because it seemed only to affect British children, big tech underestimated the implications of the Code until the 11th hour but now, in the recent weeks, they have begun coming into line, and we’re seeing greater efforts being made to protect children with international benefits.”

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