The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has warned social media giants that they must enforce tougher controls in order to protect the data of users under the age of 18.

Facebook has appeared in the news frequently in recent weeks facing reports of data breaches which has raised concerns for the protection of vulnerable users.

But in a move to protect young user’s data and to prevent them from oversharing their personal information, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat along with other major social media platforms may soon have to abide by the 16-rule code which the ICO is proposing.

This could mean that Facebook and Instagram could soon remove the ‘like’ button for underage users, and Snapchat could prevent them from formulating ‘streaks’.

The ICO has identified these tools as ‘nudges’. The ‘likes’ allow Facebook to target different advertisements towards them, and ‘streaks’ on Snapchat urges users to send photos to each other every day to achieve the reward of a streak icon next to their username.

Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner has said:

“The internet and all its wonders are hardwired into [children’s] everyday lives,”

“We shouldn’t have to prevent our children from being able to use [these apps], but we must demand that they are protected when they do. This code does that,” she stated.

The code has already received support from the by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Speaking to the BBC, Associate Head of Child Safety Online at NSPCC, Andy Burrows, has responded to the news about the introduction of the code:

“Social networks have continually failed to prioritise child safety in their design, which has resulted in tragic consequences,” he said.

The ICO has also suggested that social media platforms should do more to protect data such as making “high privacy” the default setting for children using social media platforms. To disable geolocation tools and targeted advertising as standard, unless there is compelling reasoning behind it. Platforms should additionally introduce vigorous age verification checks on platforms or treat all users as if they are children unless existing age verification checks can distinguish between adults and children.

If the firms fail to comply with the code when it’s introduced, then they could be presented with fines of up to 20 million euros (£17.2m) or 4% of their worldwide turnover under the General Data Protection Regulation.

The ICO will publish the final version of the code with further comment from Elizabeth Denham on the 31st May 2019 and will subsequently be presented to parliament. Reports suggest that the final code will be introduced by the end of 2019.

To read the full report from the ICO, click here.

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