UK watchdog sets out to ban nudge techniques to protect kids online

The UK’s Information Commissioner's Office has released its ‘age appropriate design code’ draft document that will be up for consultation until the end of May. The document sets out 16 standards about how services that children use should be designed in order to help protect them. One of the notable takeaways are the suggestions about nudge techniques such as ‘likes’ or ‘streaks’ which act as positive reinforcement techniques to keep kids hooked to the service.

Commenting on the draft code, Baroness Kidron, who led the parliamentary debate about the creation of the code, said:

“For too long we have failed to recognise children’s rights and needs online, with tragic outcomes. I firmly believe in the power of technology to transform lives, be a force for good and rise to the challenge of promoting the rights and safety of our children. But in order to fulfil that role it must consider the best interests of children, not simply its own commercial interests. That is what the code will require online services to do. This is a systemic change.”

According to the ICO, services use nudge techniques in order to lead users into selecting lower privacy options when configuring their settings, they also cause people to use the app more than they had intended to. The regulator believes that these techniques exploit human psychological bias and therefore goes against fairness and transparency provision in the GDPR​.

Aside from regulating nudge techniques, the document pushes for high privacy settings by default, the retention of the minimum amount of personal data, better parental controls, and more privacy-oriented geolocation settings such as having it disabled by default.

The ICO said that with the proposed rules, children should be able to use the internet to play, explore, and learn in an open, transparent, and safer environment. The watchdog said that following the consultation period, which ends May 31, the final version will go before parliament before coming into effect before the end of the year.

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