IWF welcomes new online safety rules but warns more still needs to be done to make sure children are safe online

Published:  Thu 2 Sep 2021

New online safety rules are a welcome step, but more still needs to be done to make sure children are kept safe online, says the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

The Age Appropriate Design Code, which comes into effect today (September 2), sets out 15 standards that online services need to follow.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says this ensures they are complying with their obligations under data protection law to protect children’s data online.

According to Stephen Bonner, the ICO’s Executive Director (Regulatory Futures and Innovation), “The Children’s code will help industry innovate to ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary concern online and built into the design from the beginning.

“This will grow the trust between online services, children, parents and society.”

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: “We welcome the introduction of the Code, and are pleased to see steps which will have a real-time impact on making children safer are already being taken. This is a positive day.

“Over the last year, we have seen several tech companies make significant changes to their operating practices which we believe will help improve child safety online.

“We have seen Instagram, Tik Tok and You Tube all make welcome changes to their policies, including steps taken by Instagram which will block adults from interacting with children if they demonstrate potentially risky behaviour.

“Tik Tok have made all accounts of children private by default and similar measures have been taken by You Tube which has turned off auto-play features for children and also set bed-time reminders.

“In July, Instagram announced that anyone opening a new account will be required to give a date of birth at the point of registration. These are all positive steps.

“However, despite the good progress that has been made, there is always more that can be done. There remain significant challenges around how companies can accurately verify users’ ages.

“On top of this, age verification of adult websites not hosting user-generated content is missing completely from the Online Safety Bill.

We would like to see this included, as there is increasing evidence that this is normalising sexualised behaviours in children and preventing them from forming healthy relationships.”

In a joint letter published in the Times today, the IWF, along with others including the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, ECPAT UK, and UNICEF, welcomed the Code. 

The letter reads: “This code will cement the UK’s reputation as the global leader in child online protection and marks a new era of responsibility from the tech industry.”

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