(Photo : Unsplash/Nathana Rebouças) Google app

Apple and Google received a written notice from the United Kingdom's data protection watchdog. The watchdog wants details from the tech giants on how they assess apps to know the age ratings that they apply after an online child safety charity raised concerns about the process.

Apple and Google Questioned by Watchdog

The move follows after the Age Appropriate Design Code was implemented in the U.K. The Code will give tech companies requirements to follow to protect the safety and privacy of children who use their platforms.

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said in a statement that her office is conducting an evidence gathering process to identify conformance with the code, and thus compliance with the underlying data protection law.

The information commissioner was responding to a letter sent by 5Rights Foundation, a child safety charity in the U.K. which did the research about the Code and the compliance of the tech giants, according to TechCrunch.

Also Read: U.K. New Watchdog Will Police Anticompetitive Allegations Made to Big Companies

The charity claimed they found 12 breaches, including false advertisement of minimum ages for games on app stores, insufficient age assurance, the use of nudges and dark patterns, a routine failure to enforce community standards, data-driven recommendations that create risks for children, low default privacy settings, and a lot more.

Denham said that the Information Commissioner's Office, or the ICO, is now taking a systemic approach. The office is focusing its work on online services with poor compliance with the privacy requirements and a high risk of harm to children.

Denham wrote a reply to 5Rights Foundation. She added that as part of the work, the ICO had contacted Apple and Google to know how the risks linked with the processing of personal data are a factor when knowing the age rating for an app.

Both Apple and Google have app stores that apply age ratings to apps that can be downloaded. This feature is under the scope of U.K.'s Code, according to Financial Times.

The ICO is not only focusing on Apple and Google. The ICO said that it has written to 40 other companies across three tech sectors that it considers highest risk for children, according to California News Times.

These companies are focused on gaming, messaging, video streaming, music streaming, and social media apps. The ICO wants to determine the standards of conformance individually.

The office stated that it would write to nine other companies after the charity highlighting a raft of concerns, bringing the total number of digital services under regulatory review to 50.

The office has not published the list of tech companies targeted and wanted to ask about Code compliance questions. Nor does the 5Rights Foundation appear to have published the list of companies it is raising concerns about.

The charity's letter to the ICO also talked about Facebook's whistleblower, France Haugen. The letter referred to her testimony to lawmakers, which includes the toxicity of the platforms like Instagram for the developing brains of teenagers.

The U.K. watchdog filed a lawsuit against Facebook for not disclosing its acquisition of Giphy.

The ICO indicated that Facebook is also on the list and the social media app needs to hand over their process of accessing the age of their users.

The U.K. watchdog has been very strict with the tech giants. Earlier this year, Google was pushed to be more strict with its screening due to fraudulent ads.

Related Article: Google and Amazon Fake Reviews Efforts Face Probe in UK - Protection of Consumers Questioned

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Written by Sophie Webster

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