Age Appropriate Design Codes: the Potential to Make Parents’ Lives Easier

May 13, 2022

The online community is buzzing with a new phrase that you might not be aware of: an age appropriate design code. It is a topic that can be confusing even to those that work in this space, so this post will break down what exactly it is, and what it means for your family.

What is an Age Appropriate Design Code?

An age appropriate design code is a set of principles or standards that companies and developers must follow when creating and designing products, services, or something else that consumers will use. In the tech space, such a code is meant to ensure that children’s experiences online are age-appropriate.

The best example of this comes from the UK with their Age Appropriate Design Code, which is a set of statutory principles that requires tech companies to act in the best interest of a child. Any app, website, platform or service that is “likely to be accessed by children” - a significant portion of the Internet - must follow 15 standards designed to protect kids online. These include limiting the collection and use of children’s data, protecting sensitive private information like geolocation, establishing clear communication and transparency practices, and more.

This code has been in effect in the UK since September 2021, so apps and websites likely to be accessed by British users under 18 must comply with the code or risk significant fines. 

California, the first US state to pass a data privacy law, is actively working to establish its own version of an age appropriate design code, modeled closely after the British standards. While the Californian bill has a long way to go before it becomes law and goes into effect, it is significant that America’s most populous state is taking such a step to improve children’s online safety.

A lot of questions remain about how exactly companies would comply with these new codes, specifically which services would have to change and how dramatic those changes would be. It’s still early, but this is promising for parents and families who can know that safety is being built into the design of the products their kids use. 

Will a Design Code Help Parents and Families?

Under a design code like the actual or proposed legislation in the UK or California, products, platforms, and services must be built intentionally with safety and privacy by design, from the very beginning. This means that products will be less risky and more trustworthy. While it is still important for parents to learn about the apps, games, platforms, and online activities their child is interested in, they can be comforted by knowing that safety was intentionally built into these products. 

Combined with existing parental controls, a design code could have the potential to alleviate a lot of the burden on busy parents who do not necessarily have the time to understand the difference between each platform their child accesses. An industry-wide set of design rules is beneficial for all because parents can be at ease knowing there are standardized safety and privacy measures. Age appropriate design codes aim to make every child’s online experience safer. In doing so, they just might make parents’ and family members’ supervisory roles much easier.

Written by

Andrew Zack

Andrew Zack is the Policy Manager for the Family Online Safety Institute, supporting policy and research work relating to online safety issues, laws, and regulations. He works with federal and state legislatures, relevant federal agencies, and industry leaders to develop and advance policies that promote safe and positive online experience for families.
Andrew joins FOSI after five years in Senator Ed Markey's office, where he worked primarily on education, child welfare, and disability policies. Andrew studied Government and Psychology at the College of William and Mary.