This is so wrong on so many levels. Britain would undergo a mass tantrum.
How are parents supposed to entertain their kids if they can't spend all day on YouTube?
And what about all the privacy implications of letting social media companies have complete identity details of their users. It will be like Cambridge Analytica on speed.
Jeremy Hunt wrote to the social media companies:
Thank you for participating in the working group on children and young people's mental health and social media with officials from my Department and DCMS. We appreciate your time and engagement, and your willingness to continue discussions and
potentially support a communications campaign in this area, but I am disappointed by the lack of voluntary progress in those discussions.
We set three very clear challenges relating to protecting children and young people's mental health: age verification, screen time limits and cyber-bullying. As I understand it, participants have focused more on promoting work already underway
and explaining the challenges with taking further action, rather than offering innovative solutions or tangible progress.
In particular, progress on age verification is not good enough. I am concerned that your companies seem content with a situation where thousands of users breach your own terms and conditions on the minimum user age. I fear that you are
collectively turning a blind eye to a whole generation of children being exposed to the harmful emotional side effects of social media prematurely; this is both morally wrong and deeply unfair on parents, who are faced with the invidious choice
of allowing children to use platforms they are too young to access, or excluding them from social interaction that often the majority of their peers are engaging in. It is unacceptable and irresponsible for you to put parents in this position.
This is not a blanket criticism and I am aware that these aren't easy issues to solve. I am encouraged that a number of you have developed products to help parents control what their children an access online in response to Government's concerns
about child online protection, including Google's Family Link. And I recognise that your products and services are aimed at different audiences, so different solutions will be required. This is clear from the submissions you've sent to my
officials about the work you are delivering to address some of these challenges.
However, it is clear to me that the voluntary joint approach has not delivered the safeguards we need to protect our children's mental health. In May, the Department
for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will publish the Government response to the Internet Safety Strategy consultation, and I will be working with the Secretary of State to explore what other avenues are open to us to pursue the reforms we need.
We will not rule out legislation where it is needed.
In terms of immediate next steps, I appreciate the information that you provided our officials with last month but would be grateful if you would set out in writing your companies' formal responses, on the three challenges we posed in November.
In particular, I would like to know what additional new steps you have taken to protect children and young people since November in each of the specific categories we raised: age verification, screen time limits and cyber-bullying. I invite you
to respond by the end of this month, in order to inform the Internet Safety Strategy response. It would also be helpful if you can set out any ideas or further plans you have to make progress in these areas.
During the working group meetings I understand you have pointed to the lack of conclusive evidence in this area — a concern which I also share. In order to address this, I have asked the Chief Medical Officer to undertake an evidence review on
the impact of technology on children and young people's mental health, including on healthy screen time. 1 will also be working closely with DCMS and UKRI to commission research into all these questions, to ensure we have the best possible
empirical basis on which to make policy. This will inform the Government's approach as we move forwards.
Your industry boasts some of the brightest minds and biggest budgets globally. While these issues may be difficult, I do not believe that solutions on these issues are outside your reach; I do question whether there is sufficient will to reach
I am keen to work with you to make technology a force for good in protecting the next generation. However, if you prove unwilling to do so, we will not be deterred from making progress.
For some bizarre reason the ICO seems to have been given powers to make wide ranging internet censorship law on the fly without needing it to be considered by parliament. And with spectacular incompetence, they have come up with a child safety
plan to require nearly every website in Britain to implement strict age verification. Baldric would have been proud, it is more or less an internet equivalent of making children safe on the roads by banning all cars.
A trade association for news organisations, News Media Association, summed up the idea in a consultation response saying:
ICO's Age Appropriate Code Could Wreak Havoc On News Media
Unless amended, the draft code published for consultation by the ICO would undermine the news media industry, its journalism and business innovation online. The ICO draft code would require commercial news media publishers to choose between
their online news services being devoid of audience or stripped of advertising, with even editorial content subject to ICO judgment and sanction, irrespective of compliance with general law and codes upheld by the courts and relevant regulators.
The NMA strongly objects to the ICO's startling extension of its regulatory remit, the proposed scope of the draft code, including its express application to news websites, its application of the proposed standards to all users in the absence of
robust age verification to distinguish adults from under 18-year olds and its restrictions on profiling. The NMA considers that news media publishers and their services should be excluded from scope of the proposed draft Code.
Attracting and retaining audience on news websites, digital editions and online service, fostering informed reader relationships, are all vital to the ever evolving development of successful newsbrands and their services, their advertising
revenues and their development of subscription or other payment or contribution models, which fund and sustain the independent press and its journalism.
There is surely no justification for the ICO to attempt by way of a statutory age appropriate design code, to impose access restrictions fettering adults (and children's) ability to receive and impart information, or in effect impose 'pre
watershed' broadcast controls upon the content of all currently publicly available, free to use, national, regional and local news websites, already compliant with the general law and editorial and advertising codes of practice upheld by IPSO
and the ASA.
In practice, the draft Code would undermine commercial news media publishers' business models, as audience and advertising would disappear. Adults will be deterred from visiting newspaper websites if they first have to provide age verification
details. Traffic and audience will also be reduced if social media and other third parties were deterred from distributing or promoting or linking titles' lawful, code compliant, content for fear of being accused of promoting content detrimental
to some age group in contravention of the Code. Audience measurement would be difficult. It would devastate advertising, since effective relevant personalised advertising will be rendered impossible, and so destroy the vital commercial revenues
which actually fund the independent media, its trusted journalism and enable it to innovate and evolve to serve the ever-changing needs of its audience.
The draft Code's impact would be hugely damaging to the news industry and wholly counter to the Government's policy on sustaining high quality, trusted journalism at local, regional, national and international levels.
Newspapers online content, editorial and advertising practices do not present any danger to children. The ICO has not raised with the industry any evidence of harm, necessitating such drastic restrictions, caused by reading news or service of
advertisements where these are compliant with the law and the standards set by specialist media regulators.
The Information Commissioner's Office has a 'cunning plan'
Of course the News Media Association is making a strong case for its own exclusion from the ICO's 'cunning plan', but the idea is equally devastating for websites from any other internet sector.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham was called to give evidence to Parliament's DCMS Select Committee this week on related matters, and she spoke of a clearly negative feedback to her age verification idea.
Her sidekick backtracked a little, saying that the ICO did not mean Age Verification via handing over passport details, more like one of those schemes where AI guesses age by scanning what sort of thing the person has been posting on social
media. (Which of course requires a massive grab of data that should be best kept private, especially for children). The outcome seems to be a dictate to the internet industry to 'innovate' and find a solution to age verification that does
not require the mass hand over of private data (you know like what the data protection laws are supposed to be protecting). The ICO put a time limit on this innovation demand of about 12 months.
In the meantime the ICO has told the news industry that age verification idea won't apply to them, presumably because they can kick up a hell of stink about the ICO in their mass market newspapers. Denham said:
We want to encourage children to find out about the world, we want children to access news sites.
So the concern about the impact of the code on media and editorial comment and journalism I think is unfounded. We don't think there will be an impact on news media sites. They are already regulated and we are not a media regulator.
She did speak any similar reassuring words to any other sector of the internet industry who are likely to be equally devastated by the ICO's 'cunning plan'.