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Designing Digital Spaces with Kids in Mind

The UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code can now be enforced, and represents a major step forward in protecting kids online.

Starting today, the UK's leading child privacy rules -- the Age Appropriate Design Code, or Children's Code -- can be enforced on all platforms and sites likely to be accessed by children in the UK. This is a moment for celebration and for renewed commitment from other lawmakers around the world to do all that they can to similarly protect young people online.

The Children's Code was enacted and went into force last year. It requires a broad array of protections to support children's privacy and digital well-being, and Common Sense supported and championed its passage. It requires that all services likely to be accessed by kids under 18 prioritize their best interests, and requires among other things that services minimize their data collection and use, put in place protective defaults (such as turning geolocation tracking off by default), refrain from "nudging" young users into giving up more information than they otherwise would, and improve transparency. Services are not supposed to use young people's information in ways that could be detrimental to them, which many experts read to include targeted ads.The Code also recognizes that kids evolve and grow over time, so companies must take into account that young kids and teenagers have different needs at different ages, though all deserve support and protection. It differs from COPPA, the U.S. child privacy law, but the requirements are compatible and services can certainly comply with both.

Indeed, we have already seen over the last month that international companies are making changes -- which appear to be in order to comply with the Children's Code -- and implementing them globally. For example, Google has announced that it will implement more protective search defaults for teenagers, and that it will limit behaviorally targeted ads to teenagers. Instagram also announced more private accounts by default for teens and limiting behavioral ads. TikTok too announced changes that would improve privacy defaults -- such as limitations on strangers messaging teens -- with younger teens even more protected than older ones.

It's great to see that these companies have decided it is in their best interest to apply such protections across the board, and not just where they may be legally required. But unfortunately, some of these companies have a history of saying one thing and then deciding a few years down the road that they want to do something different. In order to ensure that these protections, and others, may apply to children and teens in the U.S., we need lawmakers to act here, too. The U.S. needs a consumer privacy law that applies to everyone, but at the very least applies to teens, that protects them on whatever sites and services they use, and that encourages data minimization and limits targeted advertisements. Happily, we have good models for potential laws in both the Senate (which is bipartisan) and in the House (which most explicitly adopts elements of the Children's Code).

Let's celebrate today, but -- especially in the U.S. -- let's also get to work on broadening these protections to kids around the world and across the web.

Ariel Fox Johnson
Ariel Fox Johnson is Senior Counsel for Global Policy at Common Sense Media, where she advocates for smart practices, policies, and rules to help all kids thrive in today’s wired world. Her work focuses on enhancing family privacy rights, strengthening students' educational privacy, and promoting robust consumer protections in the online world. She frequently advises policymakers, industry, and tech experts, and has helped develop laws on student privacy, consumer privacy, and the Internet of Things. Ariel is a graduate of Harvard College and Law School. Prior to joining Common Sense, Ariel worked on privacy, media, intellectual property, and technology matters at corporate law firms, and provided pro bono assistance to nonprofits and asylum seekers.