Age-appropriate design code

Data Protection Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 20th March 2018.

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Amendment made: 48, in clause 124, page 68, line 24, leave out “with the day on which” and insert “when”

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 71.—(Margot James.)

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy)

The debate rehearsed in the other place was whether we should acquiesce in a derogation that the Government have exercised to set the age of consent for personal data sharing at 13, as opposed to 16, which other countries have adopted. There was widespread concern that 13 was too young. Many members of the Committee will have experienced pressing the agree button when new terms and conditions are presented to us on our updates to software on phones, or privacy settings presented to us by Facebook; privacy settings, it is now alleged, are not worth the paper that they were not written on.

Debates in the other place centred on what safeguards could be wrapped around children if that derogation were exercised and the age of consent left at 13. With Baroness Kidron, we were keen to enshrine in legislation a step towards putting into operation the objectives of the 5Rights movement. Those objectives, which Baroness Kidron has driven forward over the past few years, are important, but the rights therein are also important. They include not only rights that are enshrined in other parts of the Bill—the right to remove, for example—but important rights such as the right to know. That means that someone has the right to know whether they are being manipulated in some way, shape or form by social media technologies.

One of the most interesting aspects of the debate in the public domain in the past few months has been the revelation that many of the world’s leading social media entrepreneurs do not allow their children to use social media apps, because they know exactly how risky, dangerous and manipulative they can be. We have also heard revelations from software engineers who used to work for social media companies about the way they deliberately set out to exploit brain chemistry to create features of their apps that fostered a degree of addiction. The right to know is therefore very powerful, as is the right to digital literacy, which is another important part of the 5Rights movement.

It would be useful to hear from the Minister of State, who—let me put this beyond doubt—is an excellent Minister, what steps she plans to take to ensure that the age-appropriate design code is set out pretty quickly. We do not want the clause to be passed but then find ourselves in a situation akin to the one we are in with section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 where, five years down the line, a misguided Secretary of State decides that the world has changed completely and that this bit of legislation should not be commenced.

We would like the Minister to provide a hard timetable— she may want to write to me if she cannot do so today—setting out when we will see an age-appropriate design code. We would also like to hear what steps she will take to consult widely on the code, what work she will do with her colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that the code includes some kind of ventilation and education in schools so that children actually know what their rights are and know about the aspects of the code that are relevant to them, and, crucially, what steps she plans to take to include children in her consultation when she draws up the code.

This is an important step forward, and we were happy to support it in the other place. We think the Government should be a little more ambitious, which is why we suggest that the rights set out by the 5Rights movement should become part of a much broader and more ambitious digital Bill of Rights for the 21st century, but a start is a start. We are pleased that the Government accepted our amendment, and we would all be grateful if the Minister told us a little more about how she plans to operationalise it.

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks. To recap, the idea that everyone should be empowered to take control of their data is at the heart of the Bill. That is especially important for groups such as children, who are likely to be less aware of the risks and consequences associated with data processing. Baroness Kidron raised the profile of this issue in the other place and won a great deal of support from peers on both sides of that House, and the Government then decided to introduce a new clause on age-appropriate design to strengthen children’s online rights and protections.

Clause 124 will require the Information Commissioner to develop a new statutory code that contains guidance on standards of age-appropriate design for online services that are likely to be accessed by children. The Secretary of State will work in close consultation with the commissioner to ensure that that code is robust, practical and meets children’s needs in relation to the gathering, sharing and storing of their data. The new code will ensure that websites and apps are designed to make clear what personal data of children is collected, how it is used and how both children and parents can stay in control of it. It will also include requirements for websites and app makers on privacy for children under 18.

The right hon. Gentleman cited examples of the consultation he hopes to see in preparation for the code. In developing the code, we expect the Information Commissioner to consult a wide range of stakeholders, including children, parents, persons who represent the interests of children, child development experts and trade associations. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Department for Education, and I see no reason why it should not be included in that group of likely consultees.

The commissioner must also pay close attention to the fact that children have different needs at different ages, as well as to the United Kingdom’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The code interlocks with the existing data protection enforcement mechanism found in the Bill and the GDPR. The Information Commissioner considers many factors in every regulatory decision, and non-compliance with that code will weigh particularly heavily on any organisation that is non-compliant with the GDPR. Organisations that wish to minimise their risk will apply the code. The Government believe that clause 124 is an important and positive addition to the Bill.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy)

Will the Minister say a word about the timetable? When can we expect the consultation and code of practice to be put into operation?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

There should be no delay to the development of the code and the consultation that precedes it. If I get any additional detail on the timetable, I will write to the right hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 124, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 125