S’pore to tackle harmful content in app stores, online games; set rules for collection of children’s data

SINGAPORE – App stores could be required to remove harmful content in the marketplace as Singapore moves to secure its digital spaces, particularly for children. This includes addressing risks associated with harmful content in online games, possibly by putting in place a classification system for them.

The Republic will also address over the next 12 to 18 months how children’s personal data is collected and how data can be used in artificial intelligence (AI) systems, said Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo on Tuesday.

Specifically, the Government will develop a new code of practice that will require app stores to deal with harmful content circulating on the marketplace.

“App stores may carry apps with harmful content, especially for children. This could include content depicting explicit sexual activities or inciting violence,” Mrs Teo said, adding that the code will involve industry consultation.

She was responding to questions from Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) on how MCI will clamp down on harmful content found on platforms beyond social media services, like those on the metaverse.

The code of practice for app stores will complement the Code of Practice for Online Safety, which will be fully implemented in the second half of 2023.

The latter will require all social media firms with significant reach, such as Instagram and Facebook, to put in place systems to limit Singapore users’ exposure to online harms, including content promoting terrorism, cyber bullying or those that may incite racial or religious tensions.

MCI will also look to reduce Singapore users’ exposure to harmful content through games, possibly through a classification scheme for online games, similar to age ratings for video games, said Mrs Teo.

“This will clarify the age-appropriateness of games and help parents exercise better supervision over their children’s online gaming,” she said. “Apps with egregious content may also become unavailable for download. But games may still be accessed through platforms other than app stores, and we will study how to deal with this.”

The spotlight on gaming follows reports of online games being rife with lewd and other harmful content. In a recent case in Singapore, the Internal Security Department learnt that a radicalised teen had joined several Roblox servers that had virtual worlds that replicated conflict zones occupied by terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Later in 2023, the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) will also publish guidelines for industries, including the best practices on the use of personal data to train, test and monitor AI systems.

Children’s Personal Data guidelines will also be issued to social media services and companies whose products are used by children. This advisory will specify that parental consent must be obtained before collecting data from children under 13, and that a child’s profile is not made public by default.