The US and UK Might Fix the Internet for Kids

The internet was never designed with the best interest of the child in mind. Now it is time to fix it!

This seems to be the philosophy behind to law proposals in the US and the UK. In the spring of 2019 the Age Appropriate Design Code was sent in hearing in the UK. In January 2020, the Information Commissioner’s Office published the final version. That is a set of 15 standards that online services should meet to protect children’s privacy.

Last week the US followed suit, when The Kids Internet Design and Safety Act was introduced by Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on Thursday March 5th. If the bill is approved, it will force companies like Google-owned YouTube and Chinese ByteDance-owned TikTok to completely change how they treat children’s content on their platforms. 

Everything from ads, app design, and some kinds of harmful content would see new limitations when a child under the age of 16 uses the platform”, writes The Verge.

Senator Markey states that: “Powerful companies push kids to buy products at every turn online, and top platforms are saturated with disturbing content that no kid should ever be exposed to.” 

But what then do they want to do about it?

Well, a lot according to the draft bill that starts out proclaiming:

Children increasingly consume digital entertainment on the internet and are uniquely susceptible to manipulation online, given their lack of important neurological and psychological mechanisms which are developed later in adulthood,

And that today’s media environment is:

“..largely designed in non-transparent ways to ensure children interact with content that reflect the interests and goals of content creators, platforms, and marketers”. Companies “personalize content in order to increase engagement.” Just as they “employ sophisticated strategies, including neuromarketing, to affect consumer behavior and manipulate decision-making”. 

In order words: Children are being manipulated and need protection! It should be unlawful for an operator of a platform directed to children to incorporate any of the following features:

  • Any auto-play setting; 
  • Push alerts that urge a covered user to spend more time engaged with the platform when they are not actively using it; 
  • Displaying the quantity of positive engagement or feedback that a covered user has received from other users; 
  • Any design feature or setting that unfairly encourages a covered user, due to their age or inexperience, to make purchases, submit content, or spend more time engaging with the platform;
  • Amplify, promote, or encourage covered users’ consumption of videos and other forms of content that involve: sexual material; physical or emotional violence – including bullying; adult activities, including gambling; or other dangerous, abusive, exploitative, or wholly commercial content.

The bill is much longer and defietely worth a visit. Especially for European actors and authorities. Perhaps it could inspire?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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