The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Sooner Rather Than Later

5Rights Foundation Calls For Swifter Legislation On Internet Safety

The digital world was imagined as one in which all users would be equal, yet one third of internet users are children. This means that nearly one billion children are growing up in an environment that systematically fails to recognise their age and the protections, privileges, legal frameworks and rights that together constitute the concept of childhood.

5Rights Foundation works towards a digital environment that anticipates the presence, meets the needs and respects the rights of children and young people. Working closely with children, 5Rights operates in the engine room of the digital world: supporting enforceable regulation and international agreements, developing technical standards and protocols, and helping businesses re-imagine the design of their digital services.

5Rights believes that children have the right to a digital environment designed to allow them the freedom to explore and engage creatively, knowledgeably and fearlessly.

 Online Harms White Paper

It is the first duty of government to keep its citizens safe – particularly the vulnerable, which includes children. 5Rights has long campaigned to bring the tech sector in line with every other sector, by mandating that the safety of child users of digital services is a fundamental responsibility of service providers.

5Rights broadly welcomed the government’s Online Harms White Paper, as it set out its proposals to introduce a “new system of accountability and oversight for tech companies”; in particular, the statement of Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright MP, who said:

“The era of self-regulation for online companies is over. Voluntary actions from industry to tackle online harms have not been applied consistently or gone far enough. Tech can be an incredible force for good and we want the sector to be part of the solution in protecting their users. However, those that fail to do this will face tough action.”


5Rights welcomes the power of technology for good and firmly believes that children must be able to access the digital world. But 5Rights asserts that the commercial interests of a small number of powerful companies have been allowed to overlook the rights and needs of children – and, in so doing, they have created a digital environment that does not properly support childhood.

5Rights welcomes the government’s decision to pursue a number of the recommendations made in their report “Towards an Internet Safety Strategy”, but 5Rights Foundation’s Chair Baroness Kidron cautioned:


“The issues are so serious, and the failure of the tech sector to self-regulate so profound, that it is incumbent on government to fast-track legislation. I welcome the duty of care, I welcome enforceable terms and conditions – which 5Rights has spent years campaigning for – and I welcome stronger powers to sanction by an independent regulator. But we need all of it swiftly, robustly and uncompromisingly. The real litmus test for this White Paper is whether it results in effective and enforceable legislation, sooner rather than later.”


Everyday harms

5Rights remain concerned at the lack of provision to tackle everyday harms, such as compulsion and the use of behavioural designs to push children into actions that are harmful.

Features and techniques that nudge children into activities that are either harmful or habit-forming are ubiquitous in the digital ecosystem, and the harms that emerge need greater attention. Recent concerns about addictive loops of behaviour on gaming, social media and video-sharing platforms have been voiced by the Chief Medical Officerthe NHS and many civil-society groups that work directly with children.

Indeed, the White Paper refers to 5Rights’ report “Disrupted Childhood”, which provides an evidence base for the impact of “persuasive design” on children’s safety and well-being.

These everyday harms – a direct result of the sector’s commercial interest in excessive data collection and surveillance – are overlooked for specific intervention in the White Paper. This represents a clear failure by the government to exercise its own duty of care to children, which 5Rights has committed to raising in its response to the consultation.

A new deal

Finally, 5Rights welcomes the government’s commitment to the Information Commissioner’s Age Appropriate Design Code.

The Code is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and will require online services to provide specific protection for children’s data. The Code offers a first step to changing the status quo, by requiring services to recognise children and childhood, and consider their best interests and needs at different ages.

5Rights believes that the Code will cement a new deal between online services and children. Having introduced an amendment to the Data Protection Act that established the Code, and having been closely involved with its creation and its progress to date, 5Rights has been working closely alongside colleagues and their network to ensure that its implementation is effective and robust.

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