How the Children’s Code Forced Big Tech to Change

Published on 01 Sep 2021

The UK’s Age-Appropriate Design Code will come into effect from 2nd September 2021. Big tech companies have been releasing new features to their apps in preparation to ensure compliance.

Big Tech companies and governments have been at odds for a very long time. In May 1998, the DOJ filed a suit against Microsoft for allegedly violating antitrust laws. Fast forward to 2021, and the US government is getting ready to file a lawsuit against Google for its adtech business practices. Across the world, governments are taking on big tech companies in an effort to increase regulation and reign in the power these companies have. Most people however aren’t aware of an unassuming code called the Age-Appropriate Design Code, which has done more to disrupt big tech’s dominance than any other legislative push.

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What is the UK’s Age-Appropriate design code?

The code has been nicknamed the children’s code. It was drawn up by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office. The code was brought to parliament in June 2020. Its creation was part of 2018’s Data Protection Act. The code includes 15 headline standards required for age-appropriate design. The goal of these standards is to ensure that big tech services properly safeguard children’s privacy and their data.

After the code was approved, companies were given a little over a year to make changes to ensure they are in compliance with the code. This grace period will end on 2nd September. In anticipation of this approaching deadline, companies have been making changes to their apps and services. For example, TikTok has introduced controls over direct messages for those under 18, Google now gives teenagers the right to be forgotten and remove pictures uploaded by their parents or guardians. Instagram introduced a change recently, and now asks users to add their birth dates to the app.

What changes are required by the code?

Big tech companies must ensure that privacy settings are set to high by default for children. They must collect and maintain bare minimum data of underage users. Geolocation must be switched off and should come with an opt-in option. Any type of nudge techniques that encourage children to change these settings are not allowed. Parental controls must be implemented in a way that is easy to understand for all users.

Why is the children’s code important?

Most big tech companies have not mentioned the Age-Appropriate code as the reason for the changes they have introduced. Many believe this omission is deliberate. As companies do not want to highlight the code's impact. By introducing this code, the UK has inadvertently set a precedent for how big tech companies can be regulated.

Regulations on big tech are coming. Governments around the world are making a big push to curb the power wielded by many of todays largest tech corporations. Subscribe to to stay updates about the latest news on tech regulation and more.

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