Business Laws

We need laws that safekeep children online, hold errant platforms liable

There are no laws in India that specifically deal with the data privacy rights of a minor. There is a dire need for one, given the growing reach of digital technology.

Other countries haveseveral lawsto protect user privacy, especially if it is a child. For example, the US has Childrens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, which aims to protect the integrity, confidentiality, and security of the personal information collected from children aged under 13. Developers catering to US audiences must keep factors concerning children’s privacy in mind. “Verifiable parental consent” is mandatory for authorising the collection, use, storage, and disclosure of personal information. There is also the General Data Protection Regulation (GDRP) of the EU which focuses on improving user’s rights and controls over personal data. While it is a common law for all ages and groups of individuals, it mandates a parent’s or guardian’s authorisation before any child under 13 submits any information on an online platform.

Children are prone to sharing personal information without much thought, which is why apps and websites made for children ought to comply with regulations, which must necessarily be more stringent than those structured for adults. For instance, a mere “express consent” requirement from a minor or their guardian should not be sufficient for collecting personal information.

Many a parent’s biggest worry is: “Who does my child interact with on the Internet? How much access do they have?” Multiple apps allow the user, even minors, to interact with strangers, sans verification. Ideally, apps for children should not facilitate interactions with strangers. The Information Technology Act, 2000, Indian Penal Code, 1860, and POCSO Act, 2012, are some the legislations that lay down provisions for securing a child’s interest on the internet.

However, under the Data Protection Bill, 2021, no special liability or responsibility has been defined to ensure that intermediary platforms keep in mind the interest of a child, even while giving them blanket safeguards to avoid being held “liable” for the actions of their merchants or vendors.

Since the internet is such an abyss, how can one law protect the most vulnerable class of individuals? One link can lead to another, and you may land up on a page that is unsafe.

What steps can be taken to safeguard the privacy of children?

Privacy, by design, must be mandated for apps meant for children. App developers must design a better framework and create a safe zone for children to play, learn and grow in.

. Laws must specify that a mere “consent” capture is not sufficient when it comes to minors.

No platform should be allowed to shift the liability on to the guardian and go scott-free.

The government needs to improve existing regulations, on the lines of COPPA and GDPR, and become agile in terms of strict law enforcement to build a safe community for children to thrive in.

The writer is Managing Partner, Verum Legal, a law firm

Published on June 19, 2022