Australian lawmakers step up fight against ‘unethical companies’ targeting children online

SYDNEY — Australian lawmakers plan to strengthen laws governing how children can be tracked online with new legislation aimed at taking effect by the end of next year. The Social Media Bill has been…

Australian lawmakers step up fight against ‘unethical companies’ targeting children online

SYDNEY — Australian lawmakers plan to strengthen laws governing how children can be tracked online with new legislation aimed at taking effect by the end of next year.

The Social Media Bill has been introduced to parliament as pressure mounts on telecommunications providers to make parental consent mandatory for the sharing of children’s social media and content on the internet.

Coalition MP Rob Mitchell announced the measure in parliament on Wednesday as part of a set of proposed changes to the Electronic Communications Act, a law that was drafted before the social media boom took off.

“This legislation, if passed by Parliament, will put an end to any misleading, deceptive or menacing representations made online,” Mitchell said.

In a joint statement, he said data about children’s online activities — “including who they talk to, how often, where they are, how long they spend on social media, and to whom they talk” — would need to be reported to Internet Watch Foundation, a government-sanctioned body.

Unscrupulous “social media companies” are currently able to continue gathering such data without consent and because it is not reported, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF has repeatedly warned.

“This legislation will be useful in explaining to parents why it is important for them to be informed of their children’s activity online and how that information will be used,” Senator Penny Wong said.

The media watchdog’s boss says it’s important for children to know the law, ‘not just because of what adults say but because of what their own information might say.’ — Emma Barnett, The Australian

“Children are smarter and use more sophisticated technology than their parents and schoolmates,” she said. “Social media companies have very high standards to ensure that what their users post and share is accurate and properly anonymized.”

The Australian Law Reform Commission is currently considering whether the Copyright Act should be amended to include a separate offence of online pornography among those powers, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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