Dozens of the most popular apps are called dangerous for children in the UK

UK children’s digital rights charity 5Rights has filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), accusing dozens of major tech companies of systematically putting children at risk online and violating the recently enacted UK Children’s Code. …



The author of the complaint filed with the department was Baroness Beeban Kidron, chairman of 5Rights and a member of the House of Lords – it was the Baroness who originally proposed to approve the Code. The charity has conducted its own investigation and indicted dozens of services, including popular ones such as TikTok, Snap, Twitter and Instagram, as well as lesser-known platforms Omegle, Monkey and Kik.

The document states that mobile apps released by these platforms include unscrupulous design decisions and incentives that encourage children to share their location and receive personalized ads based on this feature. On these platforms, according to the authors of the study, potentially dangerous materials are published, including about eating disorders, self-harm and suicide. Apps don’t thoroughly check the age of users before giving them access to inappropriate features like video chats with strangers. In addition, 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.

The British Age Compliance Code (or Children’s Code) came into effect in early September after a grace year for companies that had to make the appropriate arrangements. According to some estimates, it is considered 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 violator’s global turnover. Members of the US Senate and Congress have called on American tech giants to voluntarily comply with the document’s requirements for American children. As a result, major social platforms including YouTube, Instagram and TikTok have made some changes to their services, but many problems remain. The complaint describes in detail the alleged violations on 102 platforms, which indicates their systemic nature.



For research purposes, the authors of the project registered devices running Android and iOS as belonging to children aged 8, 13 and 15 years. 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 had to do was click OK. to confirm that the user has reached the required age. Dozens of apps like Omegle allow users to chat with strangers in text or video format. These apps ask for a date of birth to confirm the age of 13, and if the user is under 18, then parental consent is required. However, there is no mechanism to confirm that the parent has actually given their consent. One teen told the study authors that as a child, he spent a lot of time at Omegle and came across intimate content on the platform, often interacting with adults.

It has also been found that recommendation algorithms contain harmful material or jeopardize the safety of children, for example, by suggesting unfamiliar 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 for such queries, as well as the hashtags associated with them. These results contain images that are inappropriate for minors and even instructions, which are not only prohibited by UK law, but also contrary to the platform’s own rules.

Finally, according to a 5Rights investigation, the Monkey video chat app uses memes on pop-ups to encourage users to share a location, which is then used to find users in the same area – including unfamiliar adults. Snapchat makes the accounts of users under 16 closed by default for the Snap Maps function, however, the authors of the study are confident, it is pushing users to ensure that their location can be used for targeted advertising.

About the author

Robbie Elmers

Robbie Elmers is a staff writer for Tech News Space, covering software, applications and services.

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