Australia gives internet firms 6 months to draft online child-safety rules

Illustration file picture shows a man typing on a computer keyboard in Warsaw

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia is giving the internet industry six months to come up with an enforceable code detailing how it will stop children seeing pornography and other inappropriate material online or face having a code imposed on it, a regulator said on Tuesday.

The eSafety Commissioner said it wrote to members of the online industry demanding a plan by Oct. 3 setting out how they plan to protect minors from seeing high-impact material before they are ready, also including themes of suicide and eating disorders.

The code should set standards for how app stores, websites including pornography and dating websites, search engines, social media platforms, chat services and even multi-player gaming platforms check that content is suitable for users, the commissioner said.

"Kids' exposure to violent and extreme pornography is a major concern for many parents and carers, and they have a key role to play," said Commissioner Julie Inman Grant in a statement.

"But it can't all be on them. We also need industry to play their part by putting in some effective barriers," she added.

The demand begins a second phase of industry codes overseen by the regulator which previously endorsed codes covering how internet companies stop the spread of terrorism or child sexual exploitation content.

Measures covered by the code protecting children from pornogrpahy could include age verification, default parental controls and software which blurs or filters unwanted sexual content, the regulator said.

A spokesperson for Google, a unit of Alphabet, said the company would work closely with the industry on the new code and a spokesperson for Facebook and Instagram owner Meta said the company continued to engage constructively with the eSafety commissioner.

Representatives of X, formerly Twitter, and app store provider Apple were not immediately available for comment.

A spokesperson for DIGI, an industry body which has most large internet companies as members and worked on the first round of codes, said it looked forward to continuing its engagement with government and the eSafety commissioner.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Michael Perry)