Social media sites are a convenient way to connect with your contacts. And Facebook – the world’s most popular platform – now appears to have truly integrated into the lives of almost all ages. But with concerns growing over the safety of children who go online, an influential report has called for the Facebook Like function to be banned for UK children.
A new draft code of practice has been proposed by the UK’s data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The code sets out the standards expected of companies such as Facebook and Snapchat that offers online services likely to be accessed by children, and which process their data.
The report’s key proposal is so-called “nudge techniques” should not be used to encourage children to carry on using the service for longer than originally intended.
These could include Likes or Snapchat Streaks, that it is claimed encourages youthful users to stay actively engaged online, allowing the service to harvest more personal data.
Nudge techniques can also be used to encourage children to supply excessive personal data, by making it easier to opt for a low-privacy option than a high-privacy alternative.
The ICO has proposed 16 standards in total that online services like social media platforms, online games and apps should meet.
These include ensuring that setting are by default “high privacy”, only the minimum amount of personal data is harvested and retained, and geolocation services are automatically deactivated by default.
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner said: ”This is the connected generation. The internet and all its wonders are hardwired into their everyday lives.
“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. This code does that.”
She added that, while the ICO’s Code of Practice is a significant step, it is just part of the solution to “online harms,” the subject of a recent government White Paper.
That report proposed establishing in law a new duty of care towards Web users, making companies more responsible for their users’ safety online – especially children and other vulnerable groups.
Welcoming the ICO’s proposals, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said social networks had “continually failed to prioritise child safety in their design” resulting in “tragic consequences”.
Andy Burrows, the charity’s associate head of child safety online, said: “That’s why it is vital this code requires children to be given the highest privacy settings by default and forces firms to act in the best interest of children.
“This design code from the ICO is a really significant package of measures, but it must go hand in hand with the Government following through on its commitment to enshrine in law a new duty of care on social networks and an independent regulator with powers to investigate and fine.”
However, others argued it should be the responsibility of parents to keep their children safe online.
Matthew Lesh, head of research for the Adam Smith Institute, criticised the proposal to set privacy settings at their highest by default.
Mr Lesh said: “The ICO is an unelected quango introducing draconian limitations on the internet with the threat of massive fines.
“It is ridiculous to infantilise people and treat everyone as children.”
Facebook has been approached for a comment.