The Information Commissioner’s Office has published its Age Appropriate Design Code – a set of 15 standards designed to protect children’s privacy online - that carry GDPR-style penalties for serious breaches.
The code sets out the standards expected of those responsible for designing, developing or providing online services like apps, connected toys, social media platforms, online games, educational websites and streaming services. It covers services likely to be accessed by children and which process their data.
The standards of the code are rooted in GDPR and the code was introduced by the Data Protection Act 2018. The ICO submitted the code to the Secretary of State in November and it must complete a statutory process before it is laid in Parliament for approval.
After that, organisations will have 12 months to update their practices before the code comes into full effect. The ICO expects this to be by autumn 2021.
In essence, the code will require digital services to automatically provide children with a built-in baseline of data protection whenever they download a new app, game or visit a website.
That means privacy settings should be set to high by default and so-called "nudge" techniques should not be used to encourage children to weaken their settings.
It also includes measures to ensure location settings that allow the world to see where a child is to be switched off by default. Data collection and sharing should also be minimised and profiling that can allow children to be served up targeted content should be switched off by default too.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “Personal data often drives the content that our children are exposed to – what they like, what they search for, when they log on and off and even how they are feeling.
“In an age when children learn how to use an iPad before they ride a bike, it is right that organisations designing and developing online services do so with the best interests of children in mind. Children’s privacy must not be traded in the chase for profit.”
This version of the code is the result of wide-ranging consultation and engagement.
The ICO received 450 responses to its initial consultation in April 2019 and followed up with meetings with individual organisations, trade bodies, industry and sector representatives, and campaigners. As a result, and in addition to the code itself, the ICO says it is preparing a significant package of support for organisations.
Denham added: “One in five internet users in the UK is a child, but they are using an internet that was not designed for them. There are laws to protect children in the real world – film ratings, car seats, age restrictions on drinking and smoking. We need our laws to protect children in the digital world too.
“In a generation from now, we will look back and find it astonishing that online services weren’t always designed with children in mind.”
Companies found in serious breach of the code could face the same sanctions as those under GDPR, including fines of up to £17m or 4% of global turnover.