On Episode 11 of #Kidtech, our CEO Dylan Collins was joined by the UK’s Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham. She leads the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which is responsible for regulating data privacy in the UK; overseeing the data protection practices of companies, charities, and government agencies. 

Elizabeth Denham features on SuperAwesome's #Kidtech podcast.

The Age Appropriate Design Code has just been released, with a 12-month transition period for online services to conform. The Code is a set of 15 standards that online services should meet to protect children’s privacy, and applies to all providers of information services likely to be accessed by kids in the UK (including, apps, websites, games, connected toys and more). 

The ICO’s Code is regarded as one of the most forward-thinking pieces of legislation in the area of kids’ online privacy and protection – but in the Commissioner’s opinion it won’t be long before this type of legislation is commonplace. 

“A generation from now we’ll all be astonished that there was ever a time when there wasn’t regulation to protect kids online. And it’ll be as normal as putting on a seatbelt. So you may say that we’re at the bleeding edge of thinking about these kinds of design issues, but I think it is going to be a regular part of our lives and protecting kids online will be expected.”

This is a natural eventuation, since children’s privacy is now the issue that parents, teachers and policymakers are most concerned about. And even the big tech companies are starting to follow this lead. Commissioner Denham continued:

“On my recent trip to Silicon Valley in February, I met with the big tech companies and all of them are thinking about children’s privacy. And it seems the one thing that everybody agrees (and that is the tech companies, and that is the policy makers, and it is the regulators) is that children’s privacy needs to be taken care of. 

“Kids are not like adults online, so we need to create a space online where kids can learn and play and experience. We’re not trying to keep them off the internet, we’re trying to keep them on a children’s appropriate internet.” 

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner

It’s easier said than done. The internet was never designed for kids, so we have a huge amount of catching up to do, even as the percentage of internet users who are under the age of 16 gets higher and higher. Not everyone has yet acknowledged the significance of the number of children online – but the Commissioner is confident that platforms who offer products such as games will be leading the charge. 

“I think they do understand that the design of their services for children needs to change and needs to provide age appropriate design. When I was in Silicon Valley, I was really impressed that designers and engineers were talking to our regulatory designers and engineers, and really trying to get a view on this. 

“And what’s ambitious, I suppose, and what’s new in this space is that the fifteen standards in the code go to the very design of the services. It’s not about age gating, it’s about designing the internet and internet services for children.”

The Code requires that companies and organizations that are likely to be accessed by children build privacy-by-design into their services. This could take a number of forms: defaulting profiles to privacy and location data turned off by default are both good examples of some of the settings that could become standard. 

This reflects a fundamental shift in children’s digital privacy laws, from the paradigm of self-identified children’s content, to a much more practical viewpoint:kids are going to try and access almost all services today. 

To hear more of Commissioner Denham’s conversation with Dylan, listen to the full podcast here