NewsMarch05 Gabriel

COFACE participates in dialogue between Commissioner Gabriel and the Alliance to Better Protect Minors Online

On the 21st of March, European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, hosted a high level meeting of the Alliance to better protect minors online in order to discuss the progress of the work carried out under the initiative and to identify areas for leveraging efforts.

The Commissioner reiterated her interest in the issue of child protection online, underlining the many challenges ahead as technology advances: increasing numbers of connected devices including connected toys, artificial and virtual reality, fake news or rather disinformation, harmful content, online addiction, data protection and privacy… Parents are in need of advice as they struggle to keep up with all of these developments.

Some tentative solutions have been explored such as flagging and reporting mechanisms, content classification, parental control tools, age verification, adapted default settings for adults/children and education and digital skills. However, it is clear that only when private companies, civil society and public authorities join forces can we make a real difference.

During the round table discussions that ensued, COFACE Families Europe President Annemie Drieskens took the floor and presented COFACE’s activities and recommendations related to child online safety.

In the present Alliance, we voice our recommendations and concerns towards policy makers and private companies, fostering a dialogue that hopefully helps in setting priorities and turn ideas into action.

Some of the most important overarching policies and recommendations that could help transform the Internet for the better include:

  • Diversifying away from the business model relying on big data and advertising, which has many negative side effects: click baiting, quantity above quality, fake news, a race to the bottom in terms of advertising, a threat to privacy, filter bubbles, etc. Some solutions worth exploring include: crowdfunding, charity and donations.
  • Empowering users not only by “educating” them, but also by adding features allowing them to customize the online services and platforms they use. This translates into exploring community based moderation, allowing users to customize the filtering algorithms possibly even make them open source.
  • Harness the true power of social relations and trust by moving beyond algorithms to sort content and allowing for the emergence of a business model rewarding “human” content curators. Many online actors provide such services to some degree: parents keeping tabs on content they like, civil society organisations referencing positive content. But so far, there has not been a way to monetize this work.
  • Cultivate diversity to reflect the real world. There is a growing tendency for users to escape the real world where they are forced to interact with people and face experiences that are unpleasant by going online and building their own virtual utopia. The current business models exacerbate this trend by customizing content based on user preferences. Unfortunately, our democratic values and political systems rely on constant dialogue and exposure to contradicting and conflicting ideas in order to survive. Therefore, exposing online users to diversified and conflicting ideas, opinions and information is a priority.
  • Finally, our more general approach is to try to reconcile the contradictions that inevitably arise, balancing the necessity of private companies to grow and make profits with the interests of users and citizens, balancing user rights with user responsibilities, in short, finding the “golden mean”, the middle way, the general interest.

COFACE Families Europe will continue following and supporting the work of the Alliance to help foster a better online environment for children all over the world.

For more information, please contact Martin Schmalzried: mschmalzried@coface-eu.org