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UK ad regulations limit collection of under-12s' data

Marketers must not collect personal data from children under 12 years' old without consent from a parent or guardian, according to new advertising rules. Two new Codes of Practice will come into force in September.18 Mar 2010

The new rules outlaw the collection of children's information; simplify the structure of broadcast ad regulation; and carry new rules against 'greenwashing', the practice of making misleading claims for a product's environmental credentials.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) Codes operate the Codes, to which advertisers sign up and which are policed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The Codes have been overhauled and revised rules put in place. They will come into effect on 1st September this year.

"This was the first ever concurrent review of all the Advertising Codes in nearly fifty years of their history," said a CAP statement. "The thorough process involved assessing more than 400 pieces of legislation and 30,000 consultation responses."

Collecting data from children

The new Codes will control the collection of children's data. "Marketers must not knowingly collect from children under 12 personal information about those children for marketing purposes without first obtaining the consent of the child’s parent or guardian," said the CAP Code. "Marketers must not knowingly collect personal information about other people from children under 16."

The current version of the CAP Code has provisions to protect under 16s, but does not address the collection of data from children.

The CAP's new age limits are inconsistent with rules and guidelines issued by other bodies. Privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) published a Good Practice Note on Collecting Personal Information Using Websites (9-page / 69KB PDF) in 2007. That refers to a now-closed online shopping advice service called Trust UK, which said that parental consent is needed to collect data from children under 12 and that people of 16 and under should be considered to be children.

The ICO said, though, that it could not give definite guidance on when young people should be given extra protection and treated as children. "The [Data Protection] Act does not state a precise age at which a child can act in their own right," it said in its 2007 note. "It depends on the capacity of the child and how complicated the proposition being put to them is."

Meanwhile, the Direct Marketing Code of Practice (123-page / 870KB PDF) of the Direct Marketing Association, the trade body for direct marketers, calls for parental consent when collecting data online from children under 16 years of age. The Code also introduces a ban on the showing of ads for age-restricted computer games during children's programmes.

Other changes

The new Code for broadcast adverts is more integrated than previous versions. "[The changes involve] the creation of a single Broadcast Code for TV and radio in place of the existing four – making it more user-friendly, clearer and joined-up," said the CAP statement.

The new broadcast Code creates "an over-arching social responsibility rule for TV and radio that will afford greater protection to consumers", it said.

“The new Advertising Codes show self-regulation at its best," said Andrew Brown, chairman of CAP and BCAP. "Time and again industry has underlined its commitment to socially responsible advertising, ensuring the Codes reflect societal concerns and changes in the media landscape." "We now look ahead, confident that the new rules are effective in protecting consumers and maintaining their trust in advertising while providing a robust but proportionate framework for industry," said Brown.

The Codes introduce new controls on what claims companies can make for the environmental effects or benefits of their products.

"Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation," said the CAP Code. "Comparative claims such as 'greener' or 'friendlier' can be justified, for example, if the advertised product provides a total environmental benefit over that of the marketer’s previous product or competitor products and the basis of the comparison is clear."

"Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle," it said. "Marketing communications must not mislead consumers about the environmental benefit that a product offers; for example, by highlighting the absence of an environmentally damaging ingredient if that ingredient is not usually found in competing products," it said.