We have previously commented on issues such as “catfishing” and online bullying both being issues of concern in the area of child abuse. The instant and anonymous access of social media forums as well as the interactive nature of online gaming, create opportunities for both those intent on abuse and those intent on bullying and blackmail.
Elizabeth Denham, the UK Information Commissioner, has spoken out on this issue and feels that future generations will be “astonished to think that we ever didn’t protect kids online.” She spoke in a forward thinking address while launching the Age Appropriate Design Code as a new set of privacy codes to be set by her office. Social media sites, online gaming sites and streaming services will need to abide by these new rules.
In the last 12 months we have seen how out of date processes have been re-visited and new approaches taken to the investigation of sex abuse. In Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, an investigation has re-opened into historic allegations brought to the fore by a local newspaper. In an almost mirror situation the investigations into allegations of sexual abuse in Rotherham have been re-opened as better understanding of the issues has led to a realisation that earlier presumptions were incorrect.
This new code considers the fast moving situation of tech advancement whilst seeking to create a safe haven so that the benefits of these services can be enhanced while the risks are reduced.
The law and protection always seem to be following the curve as seen in the implementation of specific legislation to address “upskirting” which was something legislators could not have predicted and no existing law truly fitted the crime.
We now have games and toys that young children can use to interact with and which can link to smart devices and the internet along with the more commonly known games consoles, social media (which is always developing) and the wider access to the internet generally.
The new code is designed to try and set some basic protections for those using the services and puts the emphasis on the designers and operators rather than on parents who are often bemused by the technology themselves.
The designers and operators will be required to set basic controls which protect children to include a form of location service with high privacy settings as standard rather than the default being lower levels.
The Commissioner believes these codes are based on the existing GDPR requirements and it is hoped that these steps will reduce the accessibility of children and limit grooming of children online. They are also hoped to address other potentially damaging activity such as the misuse of data (for example in bullying or blackmail), restrict access to gambling and restrict access to inappropriate content.
With the emphasis being put on the designers and operators there is hope that future users will be safer on the internet.
It highlights the need to look forward more than ever as the pace of developments and the risks posed is accelerating.
It is hard to imagine where we will be in a few years’ time.
Written by Fintan Canavan at BLM