The amendment to the bill, which is currently going through the House of Lords, was put forward by crossbencher and film director Lady Beeban Kidron. Kirdon has been campaigning to make children’s use of the internet safer since joining the House of Lords five years ago.
The amendment called for technology companies to be subject to “minimum standards of age-appropriate design”, Kidron said. Age-appropriate design could include: ensuring high privacy settings are switched on by default when a user is under 16; not revealing GPS locations; preventing data from being widely shared; and giving children time off from endless notifications during school and sleep hours. It could also require commercially driven content presented to children to be clearly identified.
The measures, which are intended to protect the privacy and mental health of children, have won the support of senior Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems. Its backers said a barrage of information, based on data-gathering, is causing social anxieties, affecting young people’s sleep and poses a risk of personal information being disseminated online. Kadron said “eye-watering and inappropriate data-harvesting” being used to profile young people had major implications.
The Observer reported that the cross-party campaign is likely to inflict a defeat on the government within weeks.
The push has been backed by Conservative peer Dido Harding, the former chief executive of TalkTalk, who told the Observer that while you couldn't make people "completely safe" online, you could "provide a seatbelt".
"I know the positive power of the digital world – but there are downsides as well as the upsides," she said, adding that society did not think twice about setting health and safety standards for children’s toys, or regulating television programmes.
"I would love to believe that commercial platforms will move fast enough that you don’t have to regulate, but there is no sign of that," she added. "It is difficult to reach consensus when there is no referee in the room. To make sure children are protected, we should set standards.”
Matt Hancock, the digital minister, said the government sympathised with the sentiment behind the amendment but disagreed that it represented the best way forward: “Earlier this year we legislated for a new code of practice for social media companies, and are consulting on our internet safety strategy which will put it into practice,” he said. “We want to keep children safe online, but this particular amendment risks creating confusion about data protection responsibilities.”