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No more 'likes' - Britain's child privacy push targets social media

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 15 April 2019 15:17 GMT

The entrance sign to Facebook headquarters is seen in Menlo Park, California, on Wednesday, October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

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Britain calls for a ban on targeting under-18s with 'nudge techniques' - features that push users to share more personal data or spend more time on a website or app

LONDON, April 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Social media giants including Facebook and Instagram could be forced to switch off "like" buttons and geolocation services for children in Britain under a new set of rules proposed on Monday.

Britain's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) published a 16-point draft code listing recommendations for online service providers, which it said would set a global standard for children's privacy online.

The document calls for a ban on targeting under-18s with so-called nudge techniques - features that push users to share more personal data or spend more time on a website or app than they intended to.

It lists Facebook's "like" function and Snapchat's "streaks" - a fire icon indicating two people have been messaging each other for several consecutive days - as examples.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment. Snapchat did not immediately reply to a request for a response.

The Internet Association UK, a trade group representing both firms, said internet companies were committed to keeping people safe online, particularly their youngest users.

"Any new guidelines must be technically possible to implement in practice, and not stifle innovation and opportunities for smaller platforms," Daniel Dyball, the group executive director said.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the code came on the back of growing public mistrust of social media and online services. Tech companies have been rocked by a series of user privacy scandals over in recent years.

"This is the connected generation. The internet and all its wonders are hardwired into their everyday lives," Denham said in statement.

"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."

Recent cases of a teenage boy groomed by his killer on a gaming site and a girl who took her own life after viewing content glorifying self-harm showed the need to make social media safer for children, said children's charity the NSPCC.

"Social networks have continually failed to prioritise child safety in their design, which has resulted in tragic consequences," said Andy Burrows, head of child safety online at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Failure to comply with the code, which is out for consultation and expected to come into force before the end of the year, could lead to hefty fines under the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, the ICO said.

The code says children should have geolocation services tracking their whereabouts turned off and enjoy high privacy settings by default.

Data collected about them must be kept to a bare minimum and not be shared with third parties or used to create profiles unless there are compelling reasons to do so, it added, calling for companies to introduce "robust" age-verification systems.

"Behavioural advertising has been shown to be particularly effective on children," said Matthew Rice of advocacy group Open Rights.

"Nudge techniques have kept children 'locked in' to games and services online contributing to sleeplessness.

"This gives the opportunity for children to access and use online services without becoming tracked and having their personal data monetised as soon as they land on the site."

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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