Kick-off video address “A digital future that families can trust” by Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager – Full speech & transcript

Full transcript below:

It’s an enormous pleasure, to welcome you to this series of discussions on digital citizenship.

These past few weeks have been a strange, unsettling time for Europe’s families. Parents who can work from home have found themselves trying to be worker and carer, cook and teacher, all at once. Key workers have been worrying how to keep their families safe, while they do the essential work which the rest of us depend on. And we’re all trying to keep our children healthy – mentally and physically – in spite of the huge changes that they’re having to deal with.

It hasn’t been easy. But families have risen to the challenge. They’ve relied on the things that have always made families strong – love and respect, teamwork and care. But many have also been able to turn to digital technology, to fill some of the gaps that our physical isolation creates.

Digital education has kept children in touch with learning. Young people who have to stay inside for most of the day have found ways to stay busy – not just movies and games, but new activities like online gym classes or museum visits.

These things just wouldn’t have been possible, a few decades ago. They show how digital technology really can make our lives better – and how important it is that we work to expand access to it, so all Europeans can share in these opportunities.

But the opportunities that digital technology offers don’t mean that we can afford to ignore the risks. Quite the opposite, in fact – they make it even more essential that we can trust that this digital technology is safe.

To keep our children safe online, we all need to work together – not just the EU and national governments, but parents and children, teachers and businesses. That’s what our strategy for a Better Internet for Children is about – and as you’ll hear in Wednesday’s session, we’re committed to making sure the strategy is up to date for the modern world.

But building trust is also about having the right rules, to control the way that powerful new technologies are used.

Digital platforms, for example, can do us a great service, by bringing the outside world into our homes. Social media platforms help stay in touch with others; online marketplaces help us buy the things our families need.

But the outside world isn’t always a nice place. And we don’t want to see those platforms exposing our children to harmful content, or putting dangerous products in their hands. That’s why, in our work on a new Digital Services Act, we’re looking at whether the time has come to give platforms new legal responsibilities.

Trust is also the key that unlocks the huge potential of data and artificial intelligence.

Europe’s supercomputers are churning through huge drug databases, looking for possible COVID-19 treatments. Contact-tracing apps could help track the virus as it spreads. And the European data space for healthcare – which we proposed in our data strategy earlier this year – can bring together the data we need to find treatments for this and other diseases.

This is just one of the many different areas where data and AI can make our lives better. But to grasp those opportunities, we need to be able to trust that our data is safe. And we need to know that AI will take fair and unbiased decisions.

This is why our data strategy looks at ways to give people more control of their data. It’s why, in our white paper on artificial intelligence, we set out our plan to create an AI ecosystem of trust, perhaps with new rules to make sure high-risk AI works safely. And it’s why we’re coordinating work across Europe to make sure contact-tracing apps respect our right to privacy.

A lot has changed in our world in the past few weeks and months. But that hasn’t made trust less important. On the contrary, we’ve all seen that it’s the thing we need most, to help us stick together in these difficult times.

To build trust in digital technology, we need to work together – sharing ideas, and listening to each other’s experiences. Because this is a task for the whole of our society – to imagine the kind of digital world we want our children to live in.

So I want to thank COFACE Families Europe for making these webinars happen – so we can carry on those interactions, even when we can’t meet in person. And I want to wish you all a very fruitful set of discussions, and a better digital future for everyone.

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