Child safety is in the spotlight; making the internet a safe place is a top priority
At the FOSI European Forum held in London in late June, industry professionals within the online safety community came together to discuss current and upcoming trends and legislation. Smith Micro was in attendance to not only provide insight to the conversation but also to learn how we can continue to help protect children online.
Here are a few key takeaways from the Forum:
- There is a big push for regulating online safety:
- The Digital Services Act passed in April 2022 limits how digital giants target users with online ads. The DSA aims to stop platforms from targeting users based on their gender, race, or religion. Targeting children with ads will also be prohibited.
- The Data Protection Act 2018 requires organizations to apply online age verification checks, in proportion to the risk of harm this sort of content on their site could present to children under the age of 18 [Section 123]. The Information Commissioner’s Office gave companies until September 2, 2021, to comply.
- The Draft – UK Online Safety Bill passed in May 2021 introduces new rules for firms which host user-generated content, i.e., those which allow users to post their own content online or interact with each other, and for search engines, which will have tailored duties focused on minimizing the presentation of harmful search results to users. Those platforms which fail to protect people will need to answer to the regulator and could face fines of up to ten per cent of their revenues or, in the most serious cases, being blocked.
- Organizations are fighting for online safety and age assurances
- The 5Rights Foundation “exists to make systemic changes to the digital world that will ensure it caters for children and young people, by design and default, so that they can thrive”. (Source: 5Rights Foundation LinkedIn Profile)
- The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) “works to promote democratic values by shaping technology policy and architecture, with a focus on the rights of the individual.” (Source: CDT.org)
- Regarding enforcing the Digital Services Act in the EU, Asha Allen of CDT envisions a formal advisory committee to help with the oversight of enforcement of the DSA and to provide recommendations on implementation due to the ambitious nature of the DSA.
- euCONSENT’s “solutions will be designed with the help of Europe’s children and the guidance of the continent’s leading academic experts, NGOs and other key stakeholders in child rights and protections online.” (Source: euconsent.eu)
- euCONSENT is piloting a technology that allows users to verify their age once while browsing and continue to be fed age-appropriate content when the user navigates from one website or platform to another.
- An informative and holistic approach to online safety is the best path forward. Tech leaders and industry experts agree that online tools are just one part of the solution. Almudena Lara of Google emphasizes the ThreePs of online safety: Participation, Privacy, and Protection. Participation allows children to be part of the conversation when it comes to what makes them feel safe online. Even when the parent decides what kind of content their child can view according to their age, it’s still important for the parent and child to have a conversation about the decision so the child can feel like an active participant in the decision-making process (Elizabeth Milovidov, The LEGO Group). “Children are at the frontline of their own experiences” (Alexandra Evans, TikTok) Privacy allows children to use the internet safely and without constant parental supervision because there are systems in place to ensure that they are being shown age-appropriate content. Protection means that personal data collected about internet users, especially children, should only be used in a relevant and harmless way, and only kept on file for as long as necessary.
- There are some companies that are already working on this holistic approach. For example, we at Smith Micro design our products to help protect children by fostering their participation in the process and having a transparent view on the setup defined. We understand that protection doesn’t end when harmful content is blocked from a child’s view when browsing the internet; the same data that we use to protect that child needs to be kept out of the hands of companies that will use it in a harmful way. We also ensure the data is only kept for the time needed to protect the child. Adhering to the legislation previously mentioned in this article is one of the best ways to accomplish this goal.
- America still has room for improvement when it comes to online safety that works for everyone. America is falling behind when it comes to Online Safety measures due to hesitancy from the government, mainly due to politics. One major issue is that many forms of legislation only focus on protecting children online, and while children are arguably the most vulnerable population, they are not the only citizens that need online protection. All people deserve to be treated fairly online and be protected from users who want to do harm. “The best way to protect children online is to protect everyone online,” Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights advocacy group. We are making strides though. California lawmakers are setting the stage for the future of online safety in the US with the Kids Code Act and Age Appropriate Design Code currently making their way through California’s Senate. Since both the EU and the UK are putting online safety that protects everyone at the forefront, and the U.S. tends to follow in their footsteps. We are moving in the right direction.