The under-16s may soon have to have parental permission to join social media platforms under a proposal by the federal government to introduce a new online privacy code to better protect children and teenagers.
- Draft laws would create an online privacy code for social media companies
- Companies like Facebook could be fined up to 10 per cent of their Australian revenue for breaches
- Advocates say similar legislation in the UK has worked effectively
The legislation would prevent social media companies from accessing a child’s data without the permission of a parent and also require companies to make all reasonable attempts to verify the age of users.
David Coleman, the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, said the draft bill could be introduced early next year after consultation with the community.
“We know that we can’t trust social media companies to act in the best interests of children, so we’re going to force them to,” he told the ABC’s AM program.
The legislation would require social media companies, under law, to act in the best interests of children when accessing their data.
“If those social media companies are using children’s data to put before them content that is destructive, that is plainly not in the best interests of children, those social media companies would be in breach of the legislation and could face penalties of up to 10 per cent of their entire Australian revenue,” he said.
“We know from Facebook’s own research that social media can lead to issues with body image.”
In a statement to the ABC, Facebook’s director of public policy in Australia and New Zealand, Mia Garlick, said the company was reviewing the draft code after it was released earlier today and that it looked forward to working with the federal government.
“We’ve been actively calling for privacy regulation and understand the importance of ensuring Australia’s privacy laws evolve at a comparable pace to the rate of innovation and new technology we’re experiencing today,” Ms Garlick said.
“We have supported the development of international codes around young people’s data, like the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code.”
Governments around the world are introducing new measures
Reset Australia, a think tank that examines how to regulate big tech, has been calling for new laws regulating social media for some time.
Rys Farthing, the head of data policy at the organisation, said similar legislation has been introduced in the UK this year, and had already had positive results.
“We saw a whole host of changes announced from the digital world in response to that,” Dr Farthing said.
“Things like TikTok, defaulting [under-16s’] accounts to private, and Google announcing that they weren’t going to even be tracking young people’s ads across the internet the way they were.”
She said legislation had changed the approach of big tech companies.
“Placing a requirement on the way that they can use data really starts to change their approach, to change the products they can build, to change what they can serve up to young people,” she said.
But Dr Farthing said she hoped the legislation applied beyond the obvious social media companies and informed how young people’s data is handled more generally, including in gaming and the education sector.
Social media companies could soon be forced to ask for parents’ permission before accessing children’s data