Weigh Risks of ID-ing users vs. Child Safety | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

On October 16, Google released its “Legislative Framework to Protect Children and Teens Online” just as lawmakers in the US are working on bringing in place regulations to verify the age of internet users both at the state and federal levels. “As policymakers contemplate these issues, they should carefully consider the broader impacts of these bills and avoid side effects like blocking access to critical services, requiring people (including adults) to submit unnecessary identification or sensitive personal information, or treating an older teen the same as a younger child,” Google said

Google has highlighted the same concerns surrounding age verification that have been pointed out by experts earlier, including during the discussions surrounding the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 (DPDP Act) in India. The company suggests that age assurance requirements set by the regulators should enable new, privacy-protective ways to ensure users are at least the required age before engaging in certain activities. “Data-intrusive methods (such as verification with “hard identifiers” like government IDs) should be limited to high-risk services (e.g., alcohol, gambling, or pornography) or age correction,” it said. 

What does the framework say?

Risk-based approach to age assurance: Google’s framework suggests an alternative approach to making the internet safer for children and teenagers. It points out that a good understanding of the user’s age can help online services offer age-appropriate experiences. But, at the same time, it says that any method of determining age comes with tradeoffs, “such as intruding on privacy interests, requiring more data collection and use, or restricting adult users’ access to important information and services.” As such, it suggests that wherever legislation asks for age assurance, it should do so through a standard that preserves the potential for anonymous or pseudonymous experiences. “Because age assurance technologies are novel, imperfect, and evolving, requirements should provide reasonable protection from liability for good-faith efforts to develop and implement improved solutions in this space,” the company also mentioned. 

Prioritize the best interests of the child during the design process: It says online platforms should be required to assess the collective interests of children within comparable developmental stages, based on expert research and best practices, to ensure that they are developing, designing and offering age-appropriate products and services geared to the best interests of children and teens.

Legislation should reflect maturity: It says that any legislation that requires protection for teen users should reflect the differences in maturity, capacity, and risks of harm between children and teens, and enable services to provide age-appropriate experiences. Doing so, Google suggests, would meet the teens’ need for access to digital tools. “This is a better way to protect teens than raising the age of parental consent, which could unnecessarily preclude some teens from accessing the basic benefits of the online world and have unintended effects on vulnerable youth,” it added. 

Offer a range of parental control tools: The framework suggests that platforms should be required to offer a range of parental control options that include options to manage content and account settings, limit screen time, and apply additional privacy protections. 

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It says that content platforms that offer personalized content should be required to implement safeguards to allow teens and parents of younger children to manage the use of their online viewing and search history in recommendations.

Take measures to protect the mental well-being of children and teens: The framework suggests that the products offered by various online platforms should have features to mitigate risks related to overuse, for example by turning on interruptive reminders by default for children and teens. It also recommends that platforms should follow best practices in highlighting crisis resources, authoritative mental health content, and other digital well-being and literacy programs to children and teens when beneficial. 

Ban personalized ads for children and teens: Google believes that personalized ads including, personalization based on a user’s age, gender, or interests for those under the age of 18 should be banned. It also suggests that the sale and processing of children’s and teens’ data should be banned. 

Google says that the processing of information should be allowed for legitimate business purposes including ad measurement, ad delivery, and capping the frequency of advertisements. Further, it says that contextual ads based only on contextual signals such as the current content being watched, search query, and general geographic location should be permitted. “Such ads preserve user privacy while supporting free-of-charge content for all users,” it explained. 

Require platforms to be transparent about developing and enforcing content policies: “Platforms should also ensure that their content policies and settings are publicly available, understandable to both parents and their families, informed by research and outside expertise, and actively enforced,” Google said. 

Use of risk-based impact assessment: Google mentioned that “risk assessment requirements, such as those included in frameworks like age-appropriate design codes (AADCs) and the GDPR [European Union’s data protection law], should be scoped to address greater risks of harm.” It further says that legislative frameworks should provide appropriate flexibility and be operationally practical so that platforms can develop mitigation strategies to help improve children’s and teens’ safety online.

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