Facebook “likes” may be turned off for UK children to ensure their safety under proposed guidelines for social media companies.
Under the draft rules, “nudge techniques” that encourage under-18s to keep using a site will be banned.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said examples of “reward loops” can help firms harvest personal data, including “likes” on Facebook and Instagram as well as “streaks” on Snapchat.
The code, which begun its consultation process on Monday, suggests 16 standards that online services must meet.
Of these, settings must be set to “high privacy” by default and only a minimum amount of personal data should be collected.
Nudge techniques should also not be used to encourage children to turn off privacy techniques or provide unnecessary personal data.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “This is the connected generation. The internet and all its wonders are hardwired into their everyday lives.
“We shouldn’t have to prevent our children from being able to use it, but we must demand that they are protected when they do. This code does that.”
Children’s charity NSPCC welcomed the proposals and said social networks had “continually failed to prioritise child safety in their design” resulting in “tragic consequences”.
Baroness Beeban Kidron, chairwoman of the 5Rights Foundation, said the code represents “the beginning of a new deal between children and the tech sector”.
She described the rules as a “systemic change”, adding: “For too long we have failed to recognise children’s rights and needs online, with tragic outcomes.”
However the ICO’s draft code was not welcomed by all, with the Adam Smith Institute saying it should be up to parents to protect their children online.
The think tank’s head of research, Matthew Lesh, said the proposal to set privacy settings at their highest by default threatens tech firms with “massive fines”.
“It is ridiculous to infantilise people and treat everyone as children.”
The consultation is out until 31 May and the final version is expected to come into effect by 2020.