New children's code highlights the importance of kids' online privacy

September 17, 2020 · READ

Regulatory agencies around the globe have worked for decades to protect young children across digital channels. In the United States, Congress enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in 1998, which required the Federal Trade Commission to issue and enforce regulations concerning children’s online privacy. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, recently enacted the Age Appropriate Design Code, also known as the “Children’s Code”.  This requires organizations to provide better online privacy protections for children. 

The “Children’s Code” primarily focuses on online services, such as apps, online games, and web and social media sites likely to be accessed by children. It doesn’t want to discourage children from participating in digital media instead it aims to protect them while they use it. This requires online services that are better designed with children’s safety in mind.

While the IOC doesn’t regulate what happens in the U.S., just like with GDPR, there are best practices for U.S. brands to take from the “Children’s Code” to stay in step with privacy and data sharing when it comes to kids.

Kids spend lots of time online

Parenting has never been considered an easy job, but recent information suggests it’s harder than it has ever been. Two-thirds of parents in the U.S. say parenting is harder today than it was 20 years ago. Many of those parents are citing social media and access to digital media as a reason, with 80% of parents saying their child (ages 5 to 11) uses or interacts with a tablet computer. 

The same study revealed that 71% of parents of a child under the age of 12 say they are at least somewhat concerned their child might spend too much time in front of screens, and 89% of parents say their child watches videos on YouTube. 

Because of COVID-19, and as we’ve seen with other consumer groups, children’s social media usage has spiked in recent months. As new social media platforms, such as TikTok, come into popularity, the amount of time per day children spend on these platforms continues to increase. 

Kids are now watching twice as many videos per day as they did just four years ago, and as recently as mid-April 2020, kids spent 99 minutes per day on YouTube. In the U.S., kids’ average usage of TikTok hit 95 minutes per day this year. 

We all must do our part to protect them

As children’s social media usage continues to climb, so do the risks exposed to them.  INHOPE is a global network that works to remove child sexual abuse material (CSAM) from the internet. The organization reported that the number of CSAM-related images and videos processed has nearly doubled from 2017 to 2019. 

The figures from 2019 also show that the median age of victims is getting younger, with 92% of victims under the age of 13. In addition to these risks, children may come into contact with content that is damaging to them, such as information about how to self-harm, bullying, abuse, or a myriad of other potentially dangerous encounters. 

Brand-owned social media pages are not immune to harmful content, so those that cater to kids need to be aware of the larger threat to them that exists online. Regardless of our role in children’s lives, we all need to do our part to create a digital world that’s safe for everyone, especially children. 

And provide a safe environment

COPPA rules apply to “operators of commercial websites and online services directed to children under 13 that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children,” as well as “to operators of general audience websites or online services with actual knowledge that they are collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13.” 

The addition of the “Children’s Code” brings additional scrutiny on businesses that not only operate commercial websites but engage younger audiences and children across their social media channels. 

Simply stated, every business has an important role to play in protecting its audiences. 

In a borderless world, organizations have to ensure they are globally compliant with increasing regulations as they look to engage audiences, build brands, create and maintain trust, and sell across social media and digital channels. 

While some regulations have been in place for many years, and others will be implemented and updated in the coming years, the urgency for brands to protect audiences is not just a regulatory one. 

Yes, there could be fines and enforcement actions for organizations that are not compliant with these regulations, but consumers are also holding brands accountable. 

This leaves organizations in a vulnerable position as they work to meet the demands of their consumers, provide a safe environment, and meet the needs of their businesses. 

While staying in step with regulations

No matter where they are in the world, brands don’t have to wait for the next regulatory agency to implement measures to protect their audiences, especially children. The most successful already effectively engage across their social media and digital channels, meeting the demands of their consumers including their safety. 

Whether it is social media, websites, social messaging apps, or other digital channels, organizations no longer have a choice if they want to protect their brand and stay in step with—or preferably ahead of—the regulatory agencies. 

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