British charity 5Rights, which specializes in protecting children’s digital rights, lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), accusing dozens of large tech companies that they systematically put at risk children on the Internet and recently came into effect on Children UK Coder…
The author of the complaint to the department was Baroness Beeban Kidron, president of 5Rights and a member of the House of Lords – it was the Baroness who originally proposed to endorse the code. The charity has conducted its own investigation and charged dozens of services, including popular services like TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, as well as lesser-known platforms Omegle, Monkey and Kik.
The document says that the mobile apps released by these platforms include unscrupulous design decisions and incentives that encourage kids to share their location and receive personalized ads based on that feature. On these platforms, according to the authors of the study, potentially dangerous content is available, particularly on eating disorders, self-harm and suicide. Apps do not thoroughly verify the age of users before giving them access to inappropriate features such as video chats with strangers. Additionally, gaming apps have been caught in massive data sharing with third parties, from advertising companies like Google to food delivery services like Grubhub and Uber, and social platforms from Pinterest to Facebook.
Dozens of popular apps are dangerous for children
The British Age Compliance Code (or Children’s Code) entered into force at the beginning of September; after a year of grace for companies that had to make the necessary arrangements. According to some estimates, it is innovative. Violations of the Code have the same consequences as violations of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); including a fine of up to 4% of the offender’s overall turnover. Members of the US Senate and Congress have called on US tech giants to voluntarily comply with the document’s requirements for American children. As a result, major social platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok have made some changes to their services, but many issues remain. The complaint details the alleged violations on 102 platforms.
For research purposes, the authors of the project recorded devices running Android and iOS; as belonging to children aged 8, 13 and 15. They were able to download 16 dating apps from the Apple Store, including Tinder, Happn, Find Me A Freak, Bumble, and others rated 18+ using a 15-year-old’s iCloud account – all they did. had to do was click OK to confirm that the user is of the required age. Dozens of apps like Omegle allow users to chat with strangers in text or video format. These requests ask for a date of birth to confirm the age of 13; and if the user is under 18, it must be parental authorization. However, there is no mechanism to confirm that the parent has given consent.
In addition, the recommendation algorithms contain harmful material or endanger the safety of children; for example, suggesting unknown adults as friends. Searching Twitter makes it easy to find information on such dangerous queries as, for example, “self-harm”. Minors have free access to the search results of these queries, as well as to the hashtags associated with them. These results contain images inappropriate for minors and even instructions; which are not only prohibited by UK law, but also against the platform’s own rules.
Finally, according to a 5Rights survey, the Monkey video chat app uses memes on pop-ups; encourage users to share a location; which is then used to find users in the same area, including unknown adults. Snapchat makes accounts of users under 16 closed by default for the Snap Maps feature; however, the study authors are confident; it pushes users to make sure their location can be used for targeted advertising.