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China’s first regulation on children’s online privacy a major step in the right direction

Given their higher level of internet use and lack of maturity, children’s privacy is far more vulnerable to being violated than adults

By NewsChina Updated Nov.1

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) issued the country’s first legislation dedicated to protecting the right to online privacy for children, due to take effect on October 1, 2019.  

The Regulation on Protection of Children’s Personal Information Online requires data collectors to obtain express consent from children’s guardians to gather and process personal information, addressing a major legal loophole regarding children’s right to online privacy.  

In past years, there have been several cases when children’s information was illegally collected and released online, often for commercial purposes. In a 2016 case, an online forum was found to have listed the personal information of 5,793 children who have been born in hospitals in Anhui Province. In a 2018 case, a hospital employee in Jiangsu Province collected and sold information about more than 3,000 newborns for 30,000 yuan (US$4,225).  

According to a report from the China Internet Network Information Center in 2018, there are 169 million Chinese netizens aged between six and 18, accounting for 93.7 percent of the total age group, a percentage substantially higher than the national average of 57.7 percent internet penetration. Given their higher level of internet use and lack of maturity, children’s privacy is far more vulnerable to being violated than adults.  

Under the new regulation, which applies to minors under 14, network operators are required to obtain consent from a child’s guardian regarding the collection, use, transmission and disclosure of their personal information.  

Violation of the regulations will incur various penalties, including warnings, fines, suspensions and withdrawal of their operating permits, or even closure of their websites.  

But whether the regulation will be effective in addressing the issue remains a question. China should draw insight from other countries’ experiences and how they apply their laws. For example, the US issued the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) more than two decades ago in 1998. In its latest application, Google was fined US$170 million and had to overhaul its privacy policies for YouTube after US regulators found it had violated COPPA by illegally gathering data on underage users and allowing advertisers to use the information to target children.  

China could learn from the US and other countries in establishing standard procedure and protocol for network operators to follow regarding soliciting consent from children’s guardians.  
Not only will it increase public awareness of the need to protect children’s privacy, it will also help facilitate the process and make it more transparent.  

Moreover, China should increase the overall level of privacy protection for all. In 2018, China enacted the Personal Information Security Standards, which stipulated recommended standards for personal information protection, which took effect on May 1, 2018.  

However, the current consensus is that this regulation is far from sufficient when it comes to providing adequate protection for net users’ personal information. It was recently reported that the National People’s Congress has included a personal information protection law in its legislative agenda for this year. China should speed up the legislation process to keep pace with the rapid and dynamic development of the online world.