European Parliament calls for end to addictive design; for services to be safe by design for children

The European Parliament today adopted by overwhelming majority a Report on committing to addressing  the risks and impacts of persuasive and addictive design of online products and services, especially for children.

5Rights Executive Director Leanda Barrington-Leach welcomed the report: “Most of the services where children spend most of their time are consciously designed to keep them hooked. This is in blatant disregard of children’s rights and interests, and any parent, teacher or public health professional can speak to the impact. We welcome this position of the European Parliament to continue the work to ensure the digital environment is a place where children can thrive.”

5Rights’ pioneering research report Disrupted Childhood: The costs of persuasive design shone the spotlight on the practices of tech companies and the risks children are exposed to. Since then, evidence has continued to mount in corroboration with these findings, with various reports consistently finding that between a third and half of children rarely disconnect and worry they are addicted to the internet.

In its report, the European Parliament notably recognises how “all services and products likely to be accessed by children must be safe for them and consider the best interest of the child”. It stresses the need to pay “special consideration” to children in seeking an “effective and coherent enforcement” of data protection rules and the recently adopted Digital Services Act. The members of Parliament calls on the European Commission to implement and promote safety by design industry standards for children, thus setting the scene for both ambitious reform of EU consumer law and robust enforcement of existing legislation to tackle the issue.

Spearheaded by Rapporteur Kim van Sparrentak MEP, Dutch legislator for the Greens, the report draws from 5Rights insight and research . It  recognises the mental and physical health risks that behavioural, manipulative and addictive design pose for children, notably in gaming, and how “certain services, products or features that may not affect adults can instead be highly risky, addictive or otherwise harmful for children, including because of the cumulative impact of a combination of several features or prolonged impact over time.”

This strong position of the European Parliaments sets the tone for the EU’s “digital fairness fitness check”, which will include an update of rules on unfair commercial practices. More importantly, this position is a strong call on the EU to keep its focus on realising children’s rights in the digital environment and making businesses responsible for their privacy and safety, drawing from established best practices like UNCRC General comment No. 25, the UK Age Appropriate Design Code or the CEN-CENELEC Workshop Agreement 18016 “Age appropriate digital services framework”.