30.10.2020 | KPMG Law Insights

Reform: Protecting minors in a digital world: The federal government plans to tighten the protection of children and young people from harmful media in 2021

Reform: Protecting minors in a digital world: The federal government plans to tighten the protection of children and young people from harmful media in 2021

Whether online games or social networks – children and young people take their everyday use of media for granted. However, young people encounter dangerous phenomena such as bullying, sexualized violence, hate speech, simulated gambling and financial rip-offs in the digital world on an equally everyday basis.

How should the protection of children and young people be improved?

A planned reform of the Youth Media Protection Act is intended to minimize these so-called interaction risks. Accordingly, the reformed law would require certain digital providers to take structural precautionary measures. To this end, the new version of the JuSchG contains a catalog of potentially suitable measures: For example, providers could select their default settings in such a way that communication is restricted to a circle selected in advance by children and parents themselves, in order to prevent uncontrolled approaches by strangers from the outset. Another possible measure provides for simple, understandable and easily accessible help and complaint systems, such as complaint buttons.

In addition, orientation for children, young people and guardians as well as educational professionals in media use and education is to be promoted through uniform and reliable age labeling. Previously, the age limits were prescribed by the Federal Youth Protection Act only for so-called carrier media such as DVDs and computer games on CD-ROM. This led to inconsistent or even divergent age ratings for the same content depending on the distribution medium. The reform is intended to standardize the age limits for online and offline media. Another new provision is that the age rating should no longer be based solely on content, but also on the aforementioned interaction risks. For example, the age limit for a harmless online game could be raised if it offers children and young people incentives to buy attractive extras.

In addition to protection against interaction risks and the introduction of uniform age labels, law enforcement is also to be adapted to the digital world. As a result of the reform, the former Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Young People will be expanded to become the Federal Agency for the Protection of Children and Young People from Harmful Media and will be further equipped both in terms of personnel and funding. In the future, the latter will, among other things, enforce the new, mandatory precautionary measures with domestic and foreign providers. To this end, the sanction options for violations of the protection of minors will be significantly tightened with fines of up to EUR 50 million.

To whom do the new regulations apply?

The new law on the protection of minors obliges service providers who store or make available third-party information for users with the intention of making a profit to introduce appropriate and effective structural precautionary measures. However, this obligation does not apply to service providers whose offerings are not aimed at children and young people and are not usually used by them. It also does not apply to journalistic and editorial content for which the service provider is responsible. In addition, providers are exempt from this obligation if it can be proven that the service has fewer than one million users in Germany.

How can affected service providers respond?

The reformed law is expected to take effect in spring 2021, when the Bundestag and Bundesrat will pass it. In preparation for new age labels and precautionary obligations, it is already advisable to analyze existing interaction risks and consider appropriate measures.

The attorneys at KPMG Law will support you in this process and will be happy to answer any further questions you may have.

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