Apple and Google app stores ‘should have the same legal duties as corner stores’

Apple and Google app stores ‘should have the same legal duties as corner stores’

Apple and Google app stores ‘should have the same legal duties as corner stores’

Apple and Google app stores should have the same obligations to child safety as corner shops, it was argued, as Parliament heard young people could access adult products offering casual sex and gambling platform gambling.

This has been allowed even when the tech giants “know emphatically” that the user is a child, according to a former Conservative minister.

Lord Bethell accused the firms of behaving with “an air of exceptionality”.

Coronavirus – Tue 10 Nov 2020

Baroness Dido Harding (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Conservative peer leveled his criticisms as he backed calls in Westminster to regulate app stores by making them subject to a new law aimed at keeping people safe online.

Proposed changes to the bill included requiring platforms involved in the distribution of online content to produce risk assessments and then take all necessary measures, such as age assurance checks, to prevent children from coming into contact with harmful material.

It came as colleagues continued their detailed line-by-line examination of the online safety law, aimed at tackling illegal and harmful content by imposing new legal requirements on big tech companies.

Lord Bethell said: “In the area of ​​app stores, Google and Apple…they are simply not voluntarily shouldering their responsibilities in making the UK a safe place for children online.

“There’s an air of exceptionalism in the way they carry themselves that suggests they think the digital world is somehow different from the real world. I don’t accept it.

He added: “There are big holes in the app stores’ child-safety measures, which means that young teenagers can access adult apps that offer dating, casual chat, casual sex, gambling, even when Apple and Google emphatically know that the user is a minor.”

Lord Bethell said: “To prevent minors from accessing adult-only apps, the most effective measures would be to check the age of users during the distribution phase. It would apply real-world principles to the internet.

He continued: “I can’t understand why my corner store requires proof of age to buy cigarettes, pornography and alcohol, but Apple and Google think it’s okay to sell apps with inappropriate content and services without proper age verification measures.” age or systems that are intentionally unreliable.”

Gala – from the National Film and Television School' London

Baroness Floella Benjamin (Anthony Delvin/PA)

Former TalkTalk head and fellow Conservative Baroness Harding of Winscombe said: ‘Two companies profit from selling user-to-user products to children. Two app stores account for more than 98% of all user-to-user service downloads with no obligation to assess the risk of selling those products to children and no obligation to mitigate those risks.

“We don’t allow it in the physical world and we shouldn’t allow it in the digital world.”

Lady Harding added: “Self-regulation has failed to protect children online over the last 15 years… there’s no reason to believe that app store self-regulation will be any more successful than it has been for the rest of Internet .”

Former children’s TV presenter and Barnardo’s deputy chair, Baroness Benjamin, said: “The parental expectation is clear. They expect this bill to protect their children from all online harm wherever they meet.”

He added: “We need to ensure that the provisions of this bill are as robust as possible to ensure that children are protected online.”

Liberal Democrat Lord Clement-Jones said: “The tech giants who are responsible for distributing almost every app….are not currently covered by the scope of the bill.

“App stores have no age assurance systems and don’t seem to want to take any responsibility for the role they may play in allowing harm.

“These are products sold through the app store and there should be an age measurement on those apps.

“The only way to improve safety is to make sure that app developers and the companies that distribute these apps do more to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are properly kept away from adult content and applications. I think it is an entirely reasonable duty to impose on them.

Labor frontbencher Lord Knight of Weymouth said: “I think it makes a lot of sense to add app stores given the way we consume the internet now.”

In response, Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Lord Parkinson said: “There are challenges to bringing app stores under the bill. Introducing new obligations in such shops at this stage risks slowing down the implementation of existing child safety obligations.”

He added: “The inclusion of child safety duties in app stores is unlikely to provide any additional protection for children on services that are already within the scope of the bill. Those services already have to comply with duties to keep children safe or face law enforcement action if they don’t.

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