Why the tech industry must continue to help make the internet safer for our kids

On Safer Internet Day 2016, techUK CEO hails UK model and calls for all tech companies to be vigilant to challenges and opportunities raised by new products and services

I know first-hand from my own children that the online world offers fantastic opportunities for young people to learn, create and communicate. The explosion in new products and services, from MOOCs to messaging, from gaming to helping with homework, I’m constantly amazed at the prospects for creativity and self-expression that our children can seize upon.

However, as I often hear from parents and school leaders, the internet also brings with it new challenges for keeping our children safer. Today’s global celebration of Safer Internet Day 2016 helps to highlight these evolving challenges and opportunities for young people online, shining a light on how we, as industry, government and wider players, can help provide the skills, knowledge and support children and parents need to navigate our ever-changing online world.

The UK model for keeping our children safer
The UK is a world-leader, having developed one of the best models for Government, industry and wider stakeholders to work in partnership to tackle these risks. Countries around the world are looking to the UK to see what has been developed here to harness the transformative power of industry and government coming together to tackle new threats.

The state of play
The number of children who use a tablet has risen to over half (53%) of 3-4 year olds, whilst nearly all (96%) 12-15 year olds have internet access at home. The amount of time 8-15 year olds spend online is significant at 11 to 19 hours a week.1 The use of smaller and more portable devices can make it harder for parents to be directly involved in supervising their children, which can bring risk and anxiety.

The good news is that there are many resources available for young people, parents, carers, teachers, social workers, law enforcement, companies, and policymakers to help children stay safer on line.

In dealing with illegal content, we must acknowledge that much of this criminal activity is global in its nature, and requires cross-border collaboration such as that pioneered through the UK-led WeProtect initiative. The recent session in September and the Global Summit in Abu Dhabi a month later are great examples where both specific companies have pledged actions and a demonstration of how Government and industry can tackle emerging and international threats together.

Not all things that parents worry about are necessarily about illegal material or criminal behaviour online. There are many aspects of our online world which are inappropriate for our children, and the UK has made great progress in championing a number of activities to ensure that children do not access inappropriate materials. Technical solutions are available such as free parental controls and family friendly network level filtering provided by the four main Internet Service Providers to help parents manage and keep their children safer online. Safe Search functions have been developed by a number of search engine providers, and there are parental controls built into devices (e.g. Xbox, PlayStation, iPhones and iPads) where functions can provide restrictions to ensure that that age appropriate content environment is maintained.

Technical fixes, however, do not provide complete solution in isolation, and it’s critical that education and outreach continue to be essential parts of the overall response to this issue. A number of resources are available such as Vodafone’s Digital Parenting Magazine and BT’s collaboration with UNICEF UK has enabled the delivery of a programme of online safety workshops, which aimed at enhancing the confidence and resilience of parents and children in dealing with age inappropriate material. Equally, organisations such as the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and Internet Matters provide information for parents, teachers, and tech companies to help with positive conversations with children.

Whilst the UK has a world-leading model of the collaborative working across different players, we must all keep to mind that there will always be new challenges to keeping our children safer online. Technology is advancing and that brings great opportunities – however at the same time the way criminals are operating online is evolving, and the way our young people act online is evolving. In our era of imminent widespread wearable technology, the Internet of Things, and more, we as Industry and Government need to be constantly vigilant to the new and changing landscape that our modern digital world brings.

Ultimately, this challenge does not start or end with one initiative – there is no silver bullet. We need to be constantly attentive to new threats. The UK has a fantastic model in the way Government, law enforcement, educators and industry are working together, and there is always more that can be done to keep our children safer.


For more information on techUK's Child Online Safety activities, please contat Skye.MacLeod@techUK.org

[1] Ofcom Children and parents: media use and attitudes report

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