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‘Children’s privacy must not be traded in the chase for profit’, says UK ICO as office launches new standards for online privacy

The Information Commissioner’s Office has published a set of 15 standards that online services – including games and apps – “should meet to protect children’s privacy”.

The document says that while there are laws to protect children “in the real world” such as film ratings, car seats, and age restrictions on drinking and smoking, these laws do not easily transfer to protect children “in the digital world”.

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” and covers all online services “likely to be accessed by children”.

The standards now requires digital services to automatically provide children with “a built-in baseline of data protection” whenever they visit a new site or download a new app/game or visit a website, which means “privacy settings should be set to high by default and nudge techniques should not be used to encourage children to weaken their settings”. This includes location settings that allow the world to see where a child is, which “should be switched off by default”. 

Data collection and sharing should also be minimised and any profiling that permits children to be served up targeted content “should be switched off by default too”.

“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,” said Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner. “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.”

“Ukie welcome the steps the ICO have taken to ensure that a proportionate, risk-based approach is applied to the safety of children’s data through the Age Appropriate Design Code,” Ukie added by way of a statement. “We also [the] welcome acknowledgement of the importance of digital literacy initiatives, something the games industry feels passionately about as our recently launched Get Smart About PLAY campaign demonstrates.”

The trade body finished on saying it “look[s] forward to working with the ICO to gain further clarity on how some aspects of the code will apply in practice to ensure it takes into account the diversity of businesses of all shapes and sizes in the UK’s vibrant games sector”.

The code needs to be approved by Parliament and submitted to the European Commission before it becomes UK law.

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond, including Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, IGN, MTV, and Variety.

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