Teenagers in the UK beware: regulators have proposed a rule that would restrict those under 18 from using the “like” button on Facebook and Instagram.
The proposal, part of a 16-rule code introduced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), an independent UK watchdog group created to uphold information rights, was introduced to better protect minors on social media platforms, and limit Facebook’s ability to collect their personal data and distribute to advertisers.
The regulator noted in its report that positive reinforcement techniques, such as the “like” button, could “nudge or encourage users to stay actively engaged with a service, allowing the online service to collect more personal data.” It cautioned that the button could also influence minors to “select less privacy-enhancing choices when personalizing their privacy settings” or “spend more time than they intend on a particular service.”
ICO told the BBC that social media networks could avoid a total ban on the “like” button if they agreed to stop collecting the personal data of minors when they use the platforms.
The watchdog has also proposed rules intended to bolster transparency surrounding privacy and community standards, minimize the amount of personal data retained by the sites, and make it more difficult to track minors’ locations. For example, the ICO recommends that location-tracking be switched off by default after each session, and that ‘bite-sized’ explanations be provided to minors so they know exactly how their personal data is being used.
The code aims to limit efforts by social media platforms to keep people on their apps for longer periods of time.
The proposed code comes after the European Union’s GDPR, or the General Data Protection Regulation, went into effect last May. That policy requires any company that does business with EU citizens to get consent from people to use their data, and requires an easy means for people to opt out of data collection if they so choose.
The regulator argued in the report that the restrictions on the “like” button correspond with Recital 38 of the GDPR, which states that “children merit specific protection with regard to their personal data, as they may be less aware of the risks, consequences, and safeguards concerned and their rights in relation to the processing of personal data.”
The report adds that “using techniques based upon the exploitation of human psychological bias in this way goes against the ‘fairness’ and ‘transparency’ provisions of the GDPR.”
But, the watchdog’s proposal has drawn criticism. Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute Think tank, which promotes free-market ideas, told the BBC that the policy is “draconian,” adding that “it is ridiculous to infantilize people and treat everyone as children.”
As noted by the BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, the ICO has no issue with the “like” button itself; rather, its problems stem from how social media platforms are collecting minors’ personal data and targeting them with advertising.
“If the platforms want to hold on to what they regard as useful elements of the social media experience, they’ll have to show they work differently for children than for adults,” Cellan-Jones wrote.
As of now, the ICO’s regulations are nothing more than proposals. But, teenagers who are fans of the “like” button should take note — their days of “liking” on Facebook and Instagram may be numbered.