The first contact of minors with pornography is between nine and eleven years old, according to a study published by the University of the Ballears Islands. On World Children’s Day, the director of the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD), Mar España, has shown her concern about this information after remembering that 90% of Spanish adolescents consume porn and, of them, three quarters parts visualize harsh scenes. Given this situation, which is related to the increase in violent behavior, she has announced her entity’s collaboration with TikTok to remove from this social network content published without consent that violates people’s rights. Also uneasy about the situation, the coordinating prosecutor for minors, Eduardo Esteban, has shown the support of the Minors Unit of the Attorney General’s Office for the proposed State Pact to protect children and adolescents in the digital sphere that has been promoted by the European Association for the Digital Transition and agreed with the ANAR Foundation, Save The Children, Dale una Vuelta, iCMedia and Unicef; and to which the AEPD had already joined previously. These entities consider that mobile devices open the door to pornography, which trivializes sexual relations and can trigger criminal situations.
Spain has clarified that young people spend an average of six hours a day on the Internet. As a result, many suffer from depression and insomnia. “One in three parents has to force their children to leave the house,” she explained. In addition, she has insisted that adolescents increasingly consume more violent content. “There is a real addiction to social networks and technology,” Esteban pointed out.
These data have led to the establishment of a communication channel between the AEPD and TikTok to urgently address, quickly and free of charge, through the so-called Priority Channel, the removal of published content that puts rights and freedoms or the physical and mental health of the affected people. These include, among others, sexual or violent themes published without the permission of the people who appear in them. In particular, in cases of harassment of minors or sexual violence against women, but also in situations of digital violence of all kinds.
In this way, TikTok joins companies that already have the channel established, such as Google, Meta or Microsoft, among others. In October, TikTok moderators in Spain went on strike after being exposed to long days of controlling violent content, harmful to their health, in exchange for what they considered low pay.
During 2023, the AEPD has ordered the elimination of content from different web pages in more than thirty cases. Since the launch of the Priority Channel in September 2019, the Agency has sent 165 removal orders for videos or photographs of sexual content recorded with consent, but published without permission. It has also deleted recordings of attacks and humiliation, as well as publications of fake profiles of women on pornographic websites with their real image and telephone number.
The percentage of effectiveness of content removal has reached 100% in 2023. In general, the removal occurs within a period of 72 hours when the person responsible for the platform is in Spain.
Access to porn at an early age encourages young women to normalize their partners’ recording of intimate relationships. When they break up the relationship, the victim of the dissemination of sexual content is usually the woman, generally under 30 years old, according to Spain; situations that, in some cases, have led to suicide. For this reason, the AEPD has also taken other measures such as sanctioning two pornography companies for the lack of accuracy in verifying the age of access and privacy. Burwebs SL has been fined 75,000 EUROS and Techump Solutions SL 525,000 euros, because there was a risk that minors would directly and without limitations access content that was harmful to them. Although there were mechanisms to declare age, there were none to verify it.
Minors, victims of the algorithm
The main consensus measures of the State Pact proposal require that the algorithms and treatment systems be audited by independent third parties and control authorities that are responsible for the privacy of minors. There are business models of large platforms and social networks that are based on capturing the attention of young people through persuasive designs, almost always hidden even from parents, resulting in the commercialization of their data.
The proposal also includes the accountability of the managers responsible for the content distribution platforms so that they respond to failure to establish the obligation to verify age. Spain has announced that on December 14 the AEDP will announce new age verification criteria to prevent access to adult content. In France, from July 2024, any device will have to include parental controls.
Limits to the use of technology in centers
On the other hand, the project aims to promote regulation in the Autonomous Communities to limit the use of mobile phones in educational centers and adapt the use of technological devices in the classroom to the age of the students. It even proposes promoting schools for parents to provide them with tools that allow them to educate their children in responsible use of the Internet and social networks. Sweden and Finland have withdrawn teaching through electronic devices because they have not proven benefits. At the moment, in Spain, only Madrid, Galicia and Castilla-La Mancha prohibit cell phone access in classrooms.
In addition to adapting the content to minors based on their cognitive capacity, it is also considered necessary for the industry to inform them in a clear and understandable manner of the purpose of collecting their data. Therefore, if the proposal goes ahead, intelligent age labeling will be required for services and products to facilitate the detection of harmful content. Special emphasis will be placed on scenes of pornography, inappropriate language and physical or psychological violence.
The Primary Care service is also included in the proposal with the provision of resources to detect, prevent and confront problematic Internet use, social networks and pornography. In Spain, only the Community of Madrid includes public treatments for technological addiction. The private cost of these therapies is around 3,000 euros per month.
The European Association for the Digital Transition has highlighted that, with the recent start of the legislature and the inclusion of the new Ministry of Children and Youth, the State Pact proposal is a wake-up call to the different parliamentary groups to bring about changes legislative measures that more effectively protect minors in the digital sphere.
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