Could under 18s soon be restricted in their social media use on services like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat?

The UK has been threatening for some time to make social networks more responsible for the content they publish to under 18s – and less addictive in the process. 

The data watchdog – the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published a 16 rule code of practice for all online services who handle the personal data of under 18s.

The code suggests turning off things like location services and profiling/ad targeting off for children as well as ‘nudge techniques’ to “to lead or encourage children to provide unnecessary personal data”. This is, essentially, encouraging social networks to make themselves less addictive for minors. Facebook has previously had to refute the accusation that it deliberately made features more addictive after a BBC report. 

Crucially, it also suggests more robust age verification systems must be put in place – which could solve many of the issues in the first place. 

The code of practice is currently being consulted upon. It will be put before Parliament this year and the ICO hopes it will be in effect by the time 2020 rolls into view and the code talks in terms of multi-million-pound fines matching that of GDPR (as it is related to personal details). 

However, provision for the code was enshrined in the Data Protection Act 2018 so it will have full legal status. The ICO previously fined Facebook £500,000 over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, so it’s not a toothless organisation. 

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