“Share your data if you are looking for a petty stalker”. That’s the response of an Edinburgh child when asked if he shared too much personal information online.
Others see content that encourages self-harm and suicidal thoughts without researching it. Another receives inappropriate advertisements while playing online games.
This is the backdrop to the introduction of our Children’s Code, crucial work to ensure that children can use online services safely.
The code came into effect in the UK last year and is already prompting tech companies to make changes to better protect children.
But we knew from the moment we started writing our code that its value in keeping children safe would depend on how the code was received internationally.
The digital world knows no borders and many of the online services children have access to are based outside the UK. It’s one of the reasons I’m heading to Washington this week for the largest international gathering to help protect people’s personal information.
The more other countries require companies to protect children’s data, the more children in the UK are protected.
And the UK has the opportunity to influence real change based on the world leading code we have developed.
We have seen rapid changes in the way UK children are protected online in line with the expectations set out in our code.
Targeted and personalized ads are blocked for children; Child accounts are set to private by default, and Location History is disabled by default. Games and video streaming have geolocation unavailable or disabled by default. Social media platforms have safety measures in place to reduce risk to children.
These are some of the kinds of changes we want to see globally.
And more needs to be done to assess the correct age of children, give them privacy notices they understand, and stop the creation of profiles using their personal data.
In Washington, the Information Commissioner’s Office will engage with social media companies under the code and build relationships with regulators, civil society voices and lawmakers who collectively push them to do better.
We ask that our code be used as a global model of regulation – to go beyond protecting children in the digital world, but rather to protect them by ensuring that online services are better designed with children in mind.
Our Children’s Code may be the best practice, bringing benefits to children and businesses around the world.
We know others are already noticing this. Two years ago, the Information Commissioner’s Office traveled to San Francisco to speak with lawmakers to encourage them to learn from our code.
We’re glad to see that California is now looking to introduce its own code for children – the California Age Appropriate Design Code bill has its first reading in the California Assembly on April 19th. Progress has also been made in the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Canada and Australia.
President Joe Biden spoke about child protection in his recent State of the Union address, saying that “while technology platforms have improved our lives in some ways, there is growing evidence that social media harms the mental health of many children and adolescents, well-being and development.
And US senators are urging big tech companies to extend UK Children’s Code standards and protections to children in the US who use their services.
We want to continue to support changes that protect children in the UK.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has always played an influential role in international data protection, both as a regulator of a major economy and as a key voice in international privacy discussions. Data protection works behind the scenes, influencing trade agreements, civil liberties and confidence in fair elections.
Post-Brexit, we can be faster, showcasing the UK as a beacon for innovation and business growth, alongside a high level of protection for people’s rights.
As the Information Commissioner’s Office regulates all businesses operating in the UK or targeting UK residents, wherever they are in the world, the Children’s Code demonstrates the opportunities we have to drive change internationally which bring real benefits to the UK.
Our work in Washington and beyond has never been more important.
John Edwards is the UK Information Commissioner