Facebook and Instagram ‘likes’ may get shut down for children under safety plans

Children may not be able to use Facebook’s ‘like’ feature Credit: Niall Carson/PA

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat could turn off their 'like' function for children in a bid to keep young people safe online.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has suggested new guidelines to protect youngsters on the internet.

But while some have praised it as a step to avoid "tragic" consequences, the draft code has not been universally welcomed.

What are the proposed rules?

Under the rules suggested by the ICO, are ways to prevent tech firms from "nudging" users into staying online for longer.

Facebook and Instagram does this through "likes" and Snapchat encourages people to keep posting through "streaks" - streaks count how many consecutive days two people have been sending Snaps to each other.

Another rule is that "high privacy" should become the default setting on social media accounts, unless there is a compelling reason and only the minimum amount of personal data should be collected.

Nudge techniques should also not be used to encourage children to turn off privacy techniques or provide unnecessary personal data, the code says.

A list of 16 standards social media platforms must meet will be put out to consultation from Monday, when members of the public and experts can give their opinion.

The code has been hailed as an international benchmark and a first of its kind.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “This is the connected generation. The internet and all its wonders are hardwired into their everyday lives.

“We shouldn’t have to prevent our children from being able to use it, but we must demand that they are protected when they do. This code does that.”

Who has welcomed the move?

A 'high privacy' setting should become the default, the code suggests. Credit: PA

The NSPCC welcomed the proposals and said social networks had “continually failed to prioritise child safety in their design” resulting in “tragic consequences”.

“That’s why it is vital this code requires children to be given the highest privacy settings by default and forces firms to act in the best interest of children,” the charity’s associate head of child safety online, Andy Burrows, said.

“This design code from the ICO is a really significant package of measures, but it must go hand in hand with the Government following through on its commitment to enshrine in law a new duty of care on social networks and an independent regulator with powers to investigate and fine.”

Baroness Beeban Kidron, chairwoman of the 5Rights Foundation, a charity to support young people online, said the code represents “the beginning of a new deal between children and the tech sector”.

“For too long we have failed to recognise children’s rights and needs online, with tragic outcomes,” she said.

“I firmly believe in the power of technology to transform lives, be a force for good and rise to the challenge of promoting the rights and safety of our children.

“But in order to fulfil that role, it must consider the best interests of children, not simply its own commercial interests.

“That is what the code will require online services to do. This is a systemic change.”

Who does not support the new rules?

Tech firms use 'nudge' techniques to encourage users to stay online for longer. Credit: PA

The ICO’s draft code was not universally welcomed, with the Adam Smith Institute saying it should be up to parents to keep their children safe online.

The think tank’s head of research, Matthew Lesh, criticised the proposal to set privacy settings at their highest by default.

He said: “The ICO is an unelected quango introducing draconian limitations on the internet with the threat of massive fines.

“It is ridiculous to infantilise people and treat everyone as children.”

The consultation is out until May 31 and the final version is expected to come into effect by 2020.

What has the Government done so far?

The Government plans to introduce an independent regulator to ensure social media companies abide to a new duty of care and code of practice.

Clear safety standards will be set out, which force companies to report to the regulator.

Tech firms could be issued substantial fines for any proven failures, with a requirement to publish a notice to the public detailing where they went wrong.

The Government is also consulting on giving the regulator even tougher powers to make individual senior managers criminally liable for any breaches.