Online child safety law heralds end to ‘tech exceptionalism’, says Baroness Beeban Kidron

Baroness Kidron has pointed to the success of British legislation in encouraging social media companies to revise their child user policies

Credit: David Rose/David Rose

British laws to keep children safe online have prompted social media giants to safeguard young people across the world, the architect of the new rules has said.

Baroness Kidron, a crossbench peer, introduced a House of Lords amendment to the Government’s Data Protection Bill that forces tech giants to identify children using their platforms and treat them differently.

It has led to TikTok ending notifications for children after bedtime, a ban on targeted adverts for under-18s on Instagram, and a new YouTube rule that prevents videos automatically playing on young people’s devices.

The rules apply internationally, suggesting that children in other countries have benefitted from “duty of care” laws passed in the UK.

The Daily Telegraph’s Duty of Care campaign has encouraged ministers to introduce a variety of new rules for online content.

Baroness Kidron said that “if one code can create societal change,” then the regulation of technology companies may be easier than lawmakers think.

“What it means is they’re not exempt,” she said.

“This tech exceptionalism that has defined the last decade – ‘we are different’ – just disappears in a puff of smoke.”

The regulation introduced by Baroness Kidron, which was welcomed by the Government, is not part of the flagship Online Harms Bill, which contains a variety of provisions to protect young people from harmful content on the internet.

The data regulation is designed to force companies to recognise the impact of their services on children, or change their platforms so all users receive child-friendly notifications and adverts.

The rule came into force last week, and gives the Information Commissioner’s Office the power to take action against companies that do not differentiate content for children.

‘They all agree about what digital world they want’

Google and Facebook have denied that recent changes to their algorithms were prompted by regulations in the UK.

But the platforms will be required to make more changes when the Online Harms Bill comes into legal force, including by preventing online bullying and children accessing adult content.

Regulators will also have the power to fine companies up to 10 per cent of their global turnover for breaches of the rules.

Baroness Kidron warned that children’s experience online “curat[es] their experience of childhood”.

“I work with a lot of children, both here in the UK and internationally. And the thing that has absolutely sideswiped me is that in over 23 countries and more than 1,000 children, they all agree about what digital world they want,” she told the Guardian.

“It’s less important that they’re in Rwanda or Kenya or Virginia, US, or Berlin, or London, because they’re all using the same services designed the same way and having the same experience.”

The Online Harms Bill will introduce specific regulations, but more rules could later come into force under the frameworks it establishes.

Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner, has been asked by Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, to find ways to implement age verification online.

The changes could mean that apps and websites must verify users’ ages by checking their passports or fingerprints.

Planned rules in the Online Harms Bill would only give the Ofcom regulator the power to recommend age verification.

In an interview with The Telegraph last month, Ms de Souza asked: “Wouldn’t it be great if the tech companies did that voluntarily and took their responsibilities seriously, rather than try to avoid it?”

Mr Dowden has previously told of his plan for the UK to lead the way in online regulation, 30 years after a British man, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, invented the World Wide Web.

He said Britain was “setting a safety standard for the rest of the world to follow”.

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