“Digital services and products were treating them as if they were equal, the outcome of treating everyone equally is you treat a kid like an adult.” -Baroness Beeban Kidron, film-maker and life peer has been warning of the digital dangers facing young people since 2012.
India is going online and creating a huge amount of data, the new oil, which is utilized by big tech companies for their profits. Data is the heart of digital India. What is worrying is the kind of negative socialization that children go through on these online platforms. A large section of the online user base in India are children and their engagement in the online world has been further encouraged by the pandemic. Along with the opportunity to learn, explore and innovate, this also started the pandemic of online abuse, i.e., the impact of the dark side on children’s mental health and overall development.
"If there is a digital platform, we somehow treat them differently. But the great irony is the harms are not only the same, the harms are worse" - Mary Grow Leory
Most of the online platforms are not age sensitive and open a world for children which are unknown, uncertain and sometimes even harmful. These platforms are not designed for children and are meant for adults. Younger people are engaging with online platforms at an unprecedented rate, which makes them an easy target for age-inappropriate content.
The alarming reports of the rise of cybercrime against children to 1081 according to the reports of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2021, makes it imperative to have child-friendly online spaces. India is lagging in the area of online safety for kids as there is no single comprehensive law which deals with the protection of children online. India doesn't even have a Personal Data Protection Law to date despite being in process for several years now. India has some legal frameworks for protecting children online but these are not enough to deal with emerging technology. For Example, Information Technology (Amendment)Act, 2008 and Information Technology (intermediary guidelines and digital media ethics code), 2021, IPC provisions etc. but these are not enough to protect children online.
The objective of the rules, regulations or putting framework is not to make the children safe from the digital world but safe within it. Other countries took a proactive approach in the field when it came to protecting their children, they came up with a law to protect the children and rules which mandates online platforms to keep the ‘best interest of children’ as the primary concern by the online platform likely to be accessed by the children. It also makes them design age-appropriate platforms. Children many times are tricked and nudged into sharing their details, sometimes links on social media or other online platforms led them to access age-inappropriate content. Datafication and profiling of children leading to targeted ads are some of the problems that can be addressed by coming out with a dedicated framework in line with the UK Code. The UK completed the anniversary of its code on Age-Appropriate Design Code, 2020 which applies to all apps, games, web and online service providers that are likely to be accessed by children. It views the children's online interests should be the primary concern for designing online platforms. This code mandates the setting by default to 'high privacy', the minimum amount of data to be collected and also prohibits the nudge techniques which encourage children to engage themselves online more and provide personal details.
In a similar line with the UK code, California recently passed the bill ‘California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act’ also Australia and Ireland came out with related codes. Australia's consumer regulator is also working on an ecosystem of online advertising to protect their children along with citizens.
“Some of the most harmful material online today involves the sexual exploitation of children and, frighteningly, this activity is no longer confined to hidden corners of the dark web but is prevalent on the mainstream platforms we and our children use every day” - Australian eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant
It is urgently required for India to focus and come out with a similar code so that there is positive digital socialization of our children where they do not have any traumatic experiences in early stages of their life. Hence, protecting the digital rights of the children.
We at Wranga are striving to fill this vacuum by empowering parents and teachers. It is a guide for parents in assessing the age appropriateness of the platform. Wranga, a review and rating platform which gives ratings based on a comprehensive analysis of the OTT contents, app and games with the help of professional reviewers who review almost every aspects like content nature (violence, sex and nudity, drinking and smoking), prohibited content, ease of use, PwD accessibility, safety feature, parental lock to privacy parameters presents in the app. It also analysed the policies of the app in relation to the data collection, sharing or third-party access to the data. So, in a nutshell, Wranga can be the tool in the hands of policymakers and Big Techs (Google) in analyzing content as it highlights the gravity of threats emanating from these online platforms. Hence, Wranga is a partner in providing a positive online experience to children.
Connect with the author on LinkedIN, Manish Tiwari