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UK wants to ban Facebook 'likes' for under-18s

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK

A top British regulator wants tough new rules to protect children from being exploited by tech companies, including a ban on under-18s “liking” posts on Facebook or being rewarded with Snapchat “streaks.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on Monday published a proposed “Code of Practice” to protect children’s privacy online. The most radical proposal is a ban on the use of “nudge” psychology for under-18s online.

“Nudge” theory was developed by a Nobel Prize-winning economist and uses human psychology to encourage certain behaviours. It has been successfully used to encourage things like blood or organ donation.

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However, the ICO, which protects individuals’ privacy rights in the UK, is worried that tech companies use nudge theory to get people hooked on their platforms. Examples includes features such as Facebook “likes” or “streaks” on Snapchat, which are a reward for when people send photos to people frequently on the app.

“Reward loops or positive reinforcement techniques (such as likes and streaks) can nudge or encourage users to stay actively engaged with a service, allowing the online service to collect more personal data,” the report said.

Elizabeth Denham, the ICO’s Information Commissioner, said in a statement: “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.”

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The proposed ban on nudges is one of 16 principals proposed in the new “Code of Practice.” Others include default high privacy settings for children, switching location tracking off by default, and not sharing any of the data collected on users who are under 18.

Tech companies that violate these new rules could be fined 4% of their global turnover or up to €20m (£17.25m).

The new rules will be consulted upon until the end of May before being put before parliament. The ICO said it expects them to be law by the end of the year.

Britain and the EU have been tracking down on tech companies in recent years. Brussels has levied billions in fines against tech giants like Google and Apple for anti-competitive practices. The UK has also proposed a new legal “duty of care” for social media companies over their customers, as well as a “Facebook tax” on global tech giants that make little profit but earn huge revenues.

READ MORE: UK announces 'groundbreaking' new 'Facebook tax' to raise £400m