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Society’s Concerns Over New Data Protection Threats

The Society of Editors has warned of severe consequences if plans to restrict young people’s access to news websites go ahead.

Society’s Concerns Over New Data Protection Threats
Ian Murray: “Making news content child-friendly will inevitably mean watering it down substantially.” Photograph: Yura Fresh on Unsplash

Writing to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last week, the Society says proposals to ensure news websites are age appropriate risk doing untold harm to legitimate media companies, even forcing some regional titles to fold.

“Not only are these proposals a real threat to the financial future of media companies, they also fly in the face of other endeavours to encourage young people to engage with the world around them and play a part in their future,” commented the Society’s executive director Ian Murray.

The proposals are part of the ICO’s Age Appropriate Code Consultation which seeks to protect young people and children under the age of 18 from having their data details exploited on the web.

The proposals, if enacted, would require news websites to either ensure their content is suitable to be read by children or require users to prove they are adults, says the Society.

“In either eventuality the media industry online would be severely harmed,” added Murray. “Making news content child-friendly will inevitably mean watering it down substantially, while asking users to provide proof of age would see a huge loss of readers. Without the ability to provide advertisers with market research collated from users – the aim of these proposals – the industry would be unable to attract revenue.”

The proposals from the ICO are not aimed at protecting children from possible unacceptable content but solely from the use of their data.

“While no one wishes to see children and young people exploited, there appears to be no evidence this is actually the case with media websites. Yet now the industry is faced with potentially catastrophic harm in an attempt to remove an unrecorded threat,” added Murray.

In his letter to the ICO, Murray added: “Although news is not targeted specifically at children – those under the age of 18 – there has always been an encouragement that young adults and teenagers do engage with the world through reading newspapers and following news broadcasts. The proposed age-appropriate codes would seem to go against that body of thought, which in itself is strange at a time when there are more and more calls for young people, especially teenagers, to have their voices heard with regard to their future. Here it appears teenagers and young people under the age of 18 are to be treated as too young to be allowed to engage in the world taking shape around them.”

The Society’s submission to the ICO can be read in full here: Response to ICO Age Appropriate Consultation.