The meeting addressed various topics including:
- protection of children in the General Data Protection regulation (GDPR);
- EU consumer protection rules relating to online advertisement targeted at children;
- safety, security and societal considerations of the Internet of Toys;
- need for compliance with EU safety legislation of children’s products.
Isabelle Chatelier – DG JUST
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which became applicable on 25 May 2018, lays down strong rules to protect the personal data of individuals in the EU. The GDPR provides specific rights and protection to children, acknowledging that children merit specific protection with regard to their personal data as they may be less aware of the risks, consequences and safeguards involved and of their rights in relation to the processing of personal data. Recognising that children are also users of digital services and should be enabled to take decisions with respect to the processing of their data online, the GDPR provides that children may consent themselves to the processing of their personal data by information society services when they are at least 16 years old. Member States may lower that age up to 13 years old. Several data protection authorities in the EU have started issuing guidance on the processing of children data, and the European Data Protection Board in its work program for 2019-2020 identified the topic of children as an area where it will produce guidelines.
EU consumer law provides a comprehensive framework of consumer protection, which takes into account the specificities of vulnerable consumers such as children. In particular, the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive regulates unfair practices such as disguised advertising and specifically prohibits direct exhortations towards children. The Commission’s studies and contacts with enforcement authorities have identified a number of practices that may particularly impact children. For example, influencer marketing through social media platforms often targets teens and minors, which was flagged in a 2018 Commission study on social media advertising. Another example concerns the targeting of children with hidden advertisements in online games, which was the subject of a 2016 Commission study and subsequent enforcement action through the CPC network.
Children spend increasing amounts of time online and Internet has progressively become both an information source, communication tool and leisure activity for youngsters. The channels to reach youth have grown, and marketers are increasingly using them, often blurring the distinction between entertainment and advertising. European consumer protection authorities are paying increasing attention to protection of children online. Authorities required platform providers Apple and Google as well as the association of online game developers to stop misleading advertising of games as "free" if they involved in-apps purchases and to avoid direct invitation to purchase directed to children. They also obliged Facebook to better explain its business model to consumers and requested social media operators to create a "notice and action" procedure for swift removal of illegal content.
New technologies, such as connected toys and smartwatches for children, create new opportunities for consumers. However, this can entail new challenges for product safety, such as cyber threats and personal security risks. Furthermore, all products (including toys and childcare articles) placed on the EU market need to be safe, regardless they are sold online or offline. The European Commission is taking different actions to better protect consumers when they buy online, such as for example the facilitation of the signature of the Product Safety Pledge, funding coordination actions on the safety of products sold online and organising awareness raising campaigns.
Connected toys come in many different forms, from smart watches to teddy bears that interact with their users. They are connected to the internet and together with other connected appliances; they form the Internet of Things, which is bringing technology into our daily lives more than ever. However, the toys' ability to record, store and share information about their young users raises concerns about children's safety, privacy and social development.
These developments of IoToys not only increase the amount of data available to services and their value to business, but also introduce new security and privacy issues, which can affect families’ and especially children’s privacy when interacting with such types of devices. Issues that neither users nor manufactures have faced previously. A team of JRC scientists and international experts looked at the safety, security, privacy and societal questions emerging from the rise of the Internet of Toys. Their report "Kaleidoscope on the Internet of Toys: Safety, security, privacy and societal insights" invites policymakers, industry, parents and teachers to study connected toys more in depth in order to provide a framework, which ensures that these toys are safe and beneficial for children.