In 2022, the video game market size in the United States was estimated to be $97.67 billion, setting a new all-time industry record. Moreover, mobile gaming emerged as the largest segment, with 48.3% of the population playing games on their smartphones. It has also been estimated that the number of gamers is expected to grow to 3.6 billion by 2025. These gamers are not just limited to inclusion of kids, 38% of gamers are between the ages of 18 and 34 years, and 16% are older than 55.
If we consider another report, taking example of the U.S., then 76% of kids younger than 18 are regular video game players. Following the rise in the online gaming market, there is also an increase in the threats that it brings along. When children’s data protection is mentioned, one might often take their minds to social media platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat. The same is justified, since most users of these apps comprise of kids. However, the online gaming industry has now taken a place here. A prime reason why online gaming platforms are included here is because of their requirement of sensitive data from its users, including personal information such as names, addresses, birthdays and other sensitive data such as GPS location.
There lies a raised concern about children’s privacy and data security, with a potential for misuse of information, provided that the data collected by these games is often without the user’s knowledge or consent. In our article, we will be discussing some of the issues related to children’s online gaming and data protection, while also mentioning the measures which can be taken to avoid or eliminate these risks.
Youth below the age of 18 remains vulnerable to the dangers posed by the internet. Considering the fact that these individuals are still in the process of developing both physically as well as mentally, internet or other online gaming platform can make them more susceptible to harm. If we consider video games, the potential risks it creates are addiction, manipulation of the user by curating highly-targeted in-game advertisement and content, and more. The addiction which these video games bring can cause social isolation, sleep deprivation and even poor academic performance of the youth. Game developers often use highly curated content to keep the users vested in their platform, these can often be persuasive, making children perform purchases or make social connections that they wouldn’t otherwise make. On online gaming platforms, where users share their personal information, be it their name or email addresses, they open themselves up to the possibility of being contacted by someone they don’t know. This is especially dangerous for young children, who may not yet have the ability to distinguish between people who are good for them or not.
In recent years, there have been various reports of children harming themselves after coming under the influence of such video games. This concern over children’s safety has made governments to recognise proposals and other frameworks to address the problem concerning children’s data security in the scope of online play. Over the past few years, many legislations have come into force. A few of them are,
1. U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office Age-Appropriate Design Code
Informally known as the Children’s Code, it was implemented by the UK’s Secretary of State in September 2020. The objective was to codify the rules and enforcement procedures surrounding online services that process children’s data. This code applied to companies that offered online services, such as social media platforms, apps, websites or any gaming services that are likely to be accessed by the children under age of 18. The code classifies 15 topics in interest of children, including transparency, data sharing, parental control and more, whose failure to comply can lead to legal proceedings.
2. OECD Recommendation on Children in the Digital Environment
Adopted in 2021, it is a formal set of guidelines aimed to promoting children’s data safety online. The recommendation is non-binding in nature, implying no necessity for countries to hold to its standards in any legal sense. However, it does provide a sort of international benchmark for how different nations might approach regulation in this area. The recommendation, at its core, speaks about creating an online environment in which online providers take the “steps necessary to prevent children from accessing services and content that should not be easily available to them, and that could be detrimental to their health and well-being or undermine any of their rights.”
3. The EU Digital Services Act
The act received the assent in April 2022. It will act as the EU’s main ‘’rulebook’ when it comes to protecting citizens’ online privacy. Under this act, online service providers will be held to higher standards when it comes to the way they process the personal information of both child and adult EU citizens. The act will also contain provisions for protecting minors, including a ban on advertising aimed at children and the algorithmic promotion of content that could potentially cause them harm such as violence or self-harm.
4. The UK Online Safety Bill
The UK Online Safety Bill is still under talks at the House of Commons, but one can call it to be a potential change in the data privacy landscape. The bill addresses the rights of both adults and children when it comes to their data online. If the bill is implemented, it would impose a safety duty upon organizations that process minors’ data to implement proportionate measures to mitigate risks to their online safety.
These regulatory frameworks have made a massive impact in the way companies are required to handle and protect the data of their users, while keeping a special focus on children. As a response to these frameworks, many online platforms and service providers have also made changes to their terms of service and product design. Some of the solutions which these platforms have come up with include privacy by design, which ensures that privacy is considered from the very beginning of the development process, rather than being an afterthought. Among other solutions, platforms should also focus on a risk-based treatment, implying that data controllers should consider the risks posed by their processing activities when determining what measures to put in place to protect the rights and freedoms of data subjects. Most importantly, parents and guardians need to take matters in their own hands by implementing parental controls on their ward’s devices and home internet networks. One can perform the same in many ways, but the most popular methods call for setting up child-friendly browsers and content fillers. They can also track their child’s screen time and limit their app usage.
To conclude, video games can foster a child’s development. It can help them build creative and other social skills while also enhancing their knowledge. But with digital technology becoming more sophisticated, it is important that we begin to respect children’s privacy rights. This makes it important for us to understand the trends in data protection and implement responsible practices to create a safe and secure environment for the children to learn and play.
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