Use a New IEEE Standard to Design a Safer Digital World For Kids

The document outlines steps for building age-appropriate products

4 min read
A photo of four people sitting against a wall with a variety of different devices in their hands.
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Strengthening the online privacy protections of children is becoming a top priority around the world. Last month, a U.K. High Court judge agreed to let a class action–style privacy lawsuit proceed against TikTok over how the video-focused social-media service allegedly mishandled children’s data. In the United States, a group of state attorneys general is investigating whether the service, as well as Instagram, a photo- and video-sharing competitor, are causing physical and mental harm to children. And in his State of the Union address on 1 March, U.S. president Joe Biden called on Congress to boost data privacy protections for children.

To help digital-service providers do a better job of designing products and services with children in mind, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) recently published IEEE 2089-2021. The Age Appropriate Digital Services Framework Working Group developed the standard under the auspices of the emerging technology standards committee of the IEEE Consumer Technology Society.


The IEEE Standard for an Age Appropriate Digital Services Framework Based on the 5Rights Principles for Children provides practical steps that project teams, suppliers, process assessors, and others can take to ensure their online products and services are safer for minors.

The 5Rights Foundation established the principles as part of its mission to make “systematic changes to the digital world to ensure it caters [to] children and young people, by design and default.” The five principles are: presenting information in an age-appropriate way, upholding children’s rights, offering fair terms for children, recognizing childhood, and putting children ahead of commercial interests and ahead of platform status.

The term age appropriateness covers a variety of values that support children, including sustainability, privacy, usability, convenience, controllability, accountability, and inclusivity, according to the 55-page standard.

IEEE SA said it believes the standard will encourage organizations to design their services with children in mind, demonstrate commitment to social responsibility, and encourage adherence to local regulatory requirements.

“While there are localized efforts to address children’s rights and safety in digital products and services, there has never been consensus-driven guidance applicable on a global scale,” Konstantinos Karachalios, managing director of IEEE SA, said in a news release about the standard.

“This standard provides organizations a framework to practically orient design processes for age-appropriate digital services toward responsible technological innovation inclusive of children,” Karachalios says. “IEEE SA believes IEEE 2089-2021 is part of a new generation of standards that emphasize ethical alignment by design, alongside the IEEE 7000 series, and help us collectively build a better digital world for children.”

PROCESSES AND PRINCIPLES

The IEEE 2089-2021 working group is composed of developers, nongovernmental organizations, nonprofits, legal firms, and other stakeholders. The group also consulted with some children and young adults.

The group looked at a variety of ways information about children is collected and stored. They include search engines that expose young people to advertising, messaging systems used in online gaming such as chat apps, in-game purchasing, video-streaming services, websites, blogs, and social-media platforms. The group also reviewed augmented-reality applications, role-playing games, multimedia content and the use of microphones, cameras, and other items that are part of Internet-connected devices.

Unlike other standards, IEEE 2089-2021 is not a protocol, a technology, or a specification, says IEEE Senior Member Katina Michael, the standard’s working group chair.

Michael is a professor with Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, with a joint appointment in the school of computing and augmented intelligence. She is the director of the Society Policy Engineering Collective.

“IEEE 2089 is a design practice,” she says. “It’s about acknowledging and identifying risks and addressing them before you deploy a new service.”

“While there are localized efforts to address children’s rights and safety in digital products and services, there has never been consensus-driven guidance applicable on a global scale.”

The standard outlines 11 processes to follow to mitigate and manage risks throughout the life cycle of development, delivery, and distribution of digital products and services. The framework includes recognizing child users and meeting their needs, upholding children’s rights, taking a child-centered approach to data use, and writing published terms in age-appropriate formats. For each process, the standard defines the purpose; outcomes; activities and tasks; and inputs and outputs. It also identifies key roles for project teams such as an age-appropriate lead and a children’s-rights advocate.

Michael says companies that have explicit design phases might want to compare what they’re doing to what the standard proposes and decide whether to add phases and roles.

“A framework is something that can be applied in practice, providing the building blocks, steps, and phases to be followed, but with the freedom to adapt one’s way of doing things,” Michael says. “It’s a benchmark for you to follow. I hope organizations will see its value and adopt it.”

INTERNATIONAL CONSENSUS

The standard also embodies the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, an agreement that establishes the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of all children.

“There’s international consensus at the highest levels that children have rights in the digital world,” Michael says. The standard “is really about advocating for the child’s rights and going beyond security and safety to helping children flourish.”

“This standard supplements the efforts from regulators to enable the design of a digital world with children in mind,” said Beeban Kidron, chair of the 5Rights Foundation, “by providing practical guidance for achieving that aim. Because this offers a vision of what a global consensus on ‘good’ looks like, no company [or] international or national organization should ignore its comprehensive approach.

“For many years we have asked how to design digital services for children,” Kidron says. “The IEEE 2089 standard answers that question.”

IEEE SA is making the standard available at no cost because of its expected impact. The How to Design a Digital World Where Children Can Thrive on-demand webinar provides additional details.

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