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July 4, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:00am

News industry fears over draft child data protections ‘unfounded’, says Information Commissioner

By James Walker

A new online code forcing websites to apply child-friendly data protections or use “robust” age-checking tools will not affect news outlets, the Information Commissioner has said.

Elizabeth Denham said the Information Commissioner’s Office wanted children to access news sites and “find out about the world”.

She also said that news industry fears about the protections proposed in the draft Age Appropriate Design code of practice were “unfounded”.

The proposed code of practice would apply to “information society services”, requiring them to collect a minimum amount of data on under-18s in an attempt to protect them from exploitation online.

But the news media has expressed fears that these rules could hit ad revenues on free-to-access news websites by blocking them from collecting vital data, or put up a barrier to readers by forcing them to verify ages.

The News Media Association, which represents news publishers, said the draft code would “undermine the news media industry” if left unchanged.

Speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee as part of its immersive technologies inquiry earlier this week, Denham said: “We want to encourage children to find out about the world. We want children to access news sites.

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“The concern about the impact of the code on media and editorial comment and journalism I think is unfounded and we have work to do to explain the code more…

“But we don’t think there will be an impact on news media sites in this context. They’re already regulated. We’re not a media regulator.”

She added there were concerns about the ad tech industry which she argued needed to be “more transparent and clear about the data that is being collected”.

In its submission to the ICO’s consultation on the draft code the NMA called for the press to be excluded from its scope. It said: “The draft code’s impact would be hugely damaging to the news industry and wholly counter to the Government’s policy on sustaining high quality, trusted journalism at local, regional, national and international levels.”

The Society of Editors also argued that the age appropriate code would do “untold harm” to news media companies and potentially force regional outlets to shut down.

The NMA and Society of Editors are set to meet with Denham to discuss concerns about the impact of child safety plans on the media.

Picture: Parliament TV

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