Net Children 2020 - European Expert Conference in Berlin on Media
Education and Child Protection April 2015
On the 17th and 18th of April, the German Federal
Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, in cooperation
with the Hans Bredow Institute and KlickSafe organized a European Expert
Conference in Berlin on Media Education and Child Protection.
The aim of the conference was to develop a "Net
Children 2020-Growing up with Media” roadmap proposing specific future actions
to foster media education and the protection of children and youths at the
national and European levels. The participants were called upon to play an
active part in drafting this roadmap and to contribute their individual skills
and standpoints. COFACE was represented
by Martin Schmalzried who was a rapporteur on the workshop dealing with
Children as Media Users in Need of Protection – Avoiding Risk, Reducing Harm
The world café sessions during the workshop helped
identify a variety of key recommendations and challenges among which:
- Adapting child protection initiatives to both the
child's age and personal development.For very young children, for instance, high quality white lists with
safe and positive content, can be of great benefit to enable them to discover
the internet, use a search engine, without taking any risks.
- Increasing user participation and control over their
content. As the web 2.0 continues to
grow, moderation by professionals encounters more and more problems to keep up
with the mass of data posted each second.Online communities such as League of Legends or Wikipedia have been
successfully relied on users to both moderate content and resolve cases of
harassment or bullying.
- Advertising and children seen as consumers. Children are increasingly seen not
"just" as children, but as consumers with a real purchasing power.
Measures to protect young children from exposure to advertising and
commercially driven content need to be put in place.
- Finding the right balance between protection and the
necessity to develop resilience. A balance needs to be found between
overprotection which hampers the development of resilience and a total lack of
protection which may negatively affect the healthy development of a child. This is linked to the first issue related to
- Determining the "real" value of data and
related consumer rights. While many services claim to be "free" for
users, they exploit personal data as their business model. With data becoming the "new" currency,
policy makers need to examine its value in monetary terms and define the rights
that users have.
- Informing users in a realistic way about the
services they use or the content they download.
All studies have shown that users don't take time to
real terms and agreements, especially not children. Therefore, we need to find
a better way to communicate essential information to users without falling into
the "tick box" default agreement which only serves to transfer any
liability on to the user. A concrete
example could be the price transparency in a "free to play" game
where a user has no idea how much he/she will have to pay on average to
"finish" the game.
The conference was a first step in defining the future
strategy of the German Federal Government on the issues around child safety
online and a better internet for children and COFACE will closely follow and
contribute to the development of the roadmap.
For more information, visit the official website of
the conference here
Safer Internet Forum 2014
The Safer Internet Forum (SIF) is a key annualinternational conference in Europe where policy-makers, researchers, lawenforcement bodies, youth, parents and carers, teachers, NGOs, industry representatives,experts and other relevant actors come together to discuss the latest trends,risks and solutions related to child online safety. It is organised and fundedby the European Commission under the Safer Internet Programme as part of theEuropean Strategy for a Better Internet for Children.
The theme of the 11thedition of the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) was ‘Growing Up Digitally’.More than 260 stakeholders in the field of child online safety fromapproximately 40 countries across the globe attended the event to discuss thelatest trends, risks and solutions related to child online safety. Participantsincluded youth ambassadors, academics, industry, teachers, NGOs, the EuropeanCommission and Ministry representatives.
The forum examined access to high qualityand safe content on the Internet for children of all ages. Several worksessions were organised on themes such as Internet access for very youngchildren, apps, young people's online creativity and expression. Youthrepresentatives also exchanged their point of view on how the Internet shoulddevelop, as well as new technologies for children and how these can influencetheir lives and behaviour. Martin Schmalzried, Policy officer at COFACE, was apanellist on the session dedicated to advertising entitled "Advertising – what’s too much?”
Research has shown that children are an economicagent. In the US, children from 8 to 12 "heavily influence” more than $30billion in spending by parents and children up to 11 spend around $18 billion ayear. Furthermore, other studies havefocused on the phenomenon of brand loyalty and showed that adults were morelikely to consume and buy brands that they consumed when they were children.
For advertisers, children are therefore a target ofchoice, not only as a future investment, but also as direct economic agentseither spending their allowance or influencing their parents in theirpurchasing decisions.
While much ink has been spilled already on theinfluence of advertising on children via the (now) "traditional media” such asTV, radio, paper, boards etc, the study of the impact of online advertising onchildren has yet to be measured, with the added difficulty of accounting forthe extremely fast paced development of online technologies and with it,advertising techniques. In just a coupleof years we have moved from pop-ups to website takeovers or from banners toseamless blending of advertising with the content. Even adults have trouble differentiatingadvertising from content, which makes it virtually an impossible task forchildren.
For the moment, protective measures exist mostly underself-regulation or third party tools (the kind that block advertising orprotect your privacy).
On self-regulation, the devil is always in thedetails. The danger is for companies to look at their current practices anddraw the line of what is permitted behind them, thereafter claiming a fullcompliance with their internal rules.For instance, a closer look at some of the rules that govern advertisersregarding food are not very restrictive as they allow products that supposedlyfulfil certain nutritional criteria, but the same products would be banned fromadvertising to children if we look at governmental standards such as Ofcom inthe UK.
As regards third party tools, they are always playinga "catch up” game with innovation in advertising techniques in the long run,they cannot win, For instance regarding pop-ups, third party tools provide areal relief and solution for users.Nowadays, it’s more about blocking cookies and third party advertisingon websites but more and more advertising techniques are harder to block. Some websites don’t work or are buggy if youblock cookies, and advertising on social networks which is plugged directly inthe feed can be virtually impossible to filter.Besides, for the moment, they work well especially on computers but onmobile devices they are still in the very early stages of development. Therewill always be role for such tools but they cannot be seen as a silver bullet,especially considering that not all parents will make a use of them and protecttheir children.
Therefore, there is a need for some form of regulationon advertising online. Advertising andmarketing online is still a wild west: pop-ups, pre-screening videos, websitetakeover or overlays, interactive or auto-play videos or messages… all of which spark some form of reaction fromtools but ultimately, we will need some form of regulation since tools havetheir limits.
Some key questions to address with regards toregulation in the field of online advertising include:
The balance between advertising content and other content. With no rules, the race to thebottom phenomenon carries the risk that advertising content will impede moreand more on content in the same way as pre-screening videos rolled out to allonline video platforms since once this becomes the standard, a platformrefusing to follow would see its advertising revenue collapse. On children’s websites, it is about where thead is placed (in the center, on the sides) and the visual and other clues tomake sure that children recognize ads for what they are.
The fairness of trading private/personal data against free content. A few decades ago, companies would pay hundreds of thousands of euro tocollect surveys about consumers, their preferences, habits, etc, nowadays, muchof this information is fed into forms and posted on social networks by usersfor no compensation at all.
How to minimize children’s exposure to advertising, marketing and othercommercial content and maximize their exposure to positive, quality content. We will need independentorganisations or networks such as POSCON to weed out what is quality contentand what isn’t. We need a trustworthysource for parents.
Better Internet for You(th): Safer Internet Forum 2013
The 2013 edition of the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) was a great success. COFACE was there, as for many years we are actively involved in the cooperation with the European Commission, the Internet companies, the Safer Internet centres and the family organisations in asking for a safer and better internet for children, and also more awareness and more information about the risks for parents.
The highlight of the conference was the participation of the youth panelists, who come from all over Europe, and have a separate meeting already the days prior to the Safer Internet Forum. The SIF is one of the rare forums that respect the principles of "not about us without us”, and it is a great privilege being in the same conference with teenagers, who are really involved, make great contributions and really raise the overall quality of the event. It was also a special treat to see so many of the young people, but also other partners again, who have come to our #DeleteCyberbullying conference in Madrid in June.
The conference is also incredibly interactive, with multiple choice questions to the audience, before and during the panel discussions, and this really creates a sense of community and strong participation.
The organisers will prepare a comprehensive documentation about the entire conference including all the presentations; therefore here we won’t detail the different sessions, and the numerous excellent presentations and talks...
One speaker to whom I would like to draw your attention to was Joel Bakan, a Canadian writer, film-maker and academic, who researches extensively how large corporations are using the open space and open access of the internet to lure even the youngest children in, getting them to become emotionally attached to services and games online, which makes them come back to the site regularly, and either benefits from this as a marketing audience, or even directly as customers, as after a while the children (or rather their parents) have to pay for the continued use of the services and products. Discussing this more darker side of the internet, another participants said: "if you are not paying for the service you are using online – then you are the product”.
This short summary hopefully demonstrates, that while we all acknowledge the unlimited possibilities the internet and the continuously evolving services offer us, there is also a great deal about the internet that we don’t know about, or that we would prefer not to know about, but these need to be addressed to, and only in partnership with governments, companies and civil societies can we be the co-creators of the web we want for us and our children.
Children online: are empowerment and protectioncompatible?
Empowermentand protection are often opposed to each other: too much protection would meanfewer opportunities to develop digital skills for children, and focusing onlyon empowerment would work in an ideal world with no contradictory messages leadby commercial interests and unlimited time to empower children in all relevantareas such as healthy nutrition, sexuality education, financial education…
Inorder to strike the right balance betweenthese two strategies, we have to start with the right premises: recognisingthat the average user does not existand that users are vulnerable. Be itchildren, parents, grandparents, no one should be deemed inherently digitallyskilled (being a digital native).
Withthat in mind, policy makers need to focus on adopting policies, crafting lawsand regulations that address thespecific vulnerabilities of the different user groups without limitingtheir opportunities to learn and develop.
Forinstance, cyberbullying has been in the political spotlight because existingmeasures such as national or European laws or government action plans are notaddressing the problem.
Industrystakeholders, for their part, should designproducts and/or services that are accessible, understandable and usable in aresponsible way by all users.
Examplescan include Chatroulette or Snapchat, both of which have been misused by youthand adults alike. Is it that the users are simply "evil" and reallythink hard how to misuse a well thought and designed service or are theircontroversial behaviors linked directly to the design of the service?
Forboth public and private actors, it is essential to consult with civil society organizations, especially those workingat the grassroot level (hotlines, helplines, safer internet centers, familyorganizations). These organizations have extensive experience with the problemsfaced online by children and can provide insightful advice on policy measuresor product and service design.
Whereasboth public and private actors play a role in empowering children, only civilsociety can ensure a conflict ofinterest free empowerment of children. Consequently, especially in thisdifficult economic context with many budget cuts, it would be a mistake to cutfunding to civil society.
Children connect to the internet with mobiledevices at an ever earlier age. Fast evolution in the field of ICT creates newchallenges and opportunities.
While some years ago parents could still monitortheir children's use of the internet on the home computer, access to theinternet has become ever more mobile.Children have, at their fingertips, access to an unprecedented wealth ofinformation and a way to interact with the whole world. At the same time, acertain set of skills are needed to make the most out of the internet.Challenges such as cyberbullying,exposure to inappropriate or harmful content, exposure to advertising andexcessive use/time spent on the internet are real and can have enduring negativeeffects on the development of children.
What can we do?
In essence, keepingchildren safe online is the responsibility of all actors. Parents,teachers, service providers, hardware manufacturers, policy makers...
At the same time, parents are the primaryeducators of children and in the case of young children, parents are virtually the sole reference for establishing healthyhabits and adhering to core values such as respect, be it online oroffline.
Childrenneed to learn as early as possible about their rights and responsibilities and parents are among the first to initiatethis learning process.
Knowledge these two dimensions can help childrenput into better perspective and react better to issues such as cyberbullying,by knowing what rights they have should they be a victim and by keeping in mindthe consequences should they be a perpetrator.
CEO Coalition to make internet a better place for children
Onthe 22nd of January, the EU Commission held the 1st year reviewmeeting of the CEO Coalition to make internet a better place for children. Thepurpose of the meeting was to look back at the commitments and objectives thatthe CEO Coalition was set to achieve in the five different working groups anddiscuss the next steps, further need for improvement and agreeing on the reviewprocess (reporting, monitoring, evaluation).
Inthe first working group on reportingtools, mobile operators and industry stakeholders will work to provide appsthat will enable children to report harmful contents or contacts. In addition, companies will work with NGOsand hotlines to provide browser apps that enable users to seek help with a single click.
Inthe second working group on age-appropriateprivacy settings, companies pulled together a comprehensive and comparativedatabase (September 2012) that illustrates the current practices when it comesto age-appropriate privacy settings for minors. Best practices still need tobe identified from this database and agreed upon among the variousstakeholders.
Inthe third working group on wider use ofcontent classification, the stakeholders agreed to work on a commondata-model for interoperable online labels and explore options formachine-readability in different online contexts. A reflection on how users understand the different classification systems and makingsure that it is easy for users to filter content or choose content based onclassification systems needs to be carried out.
Inthe fourth working group on wideravailability and use of parental controls, companies agreed to provideparental control tools and give clear information to users by the end of2013. A continued effort on awarenessraising needs to be done in cooperation with all stakeholders given the small uptakeof parental controls by parents.
Inthe fifth and last working group on effectivetakedown of child abuse material, industry will continue to work onproviding increased transparency regarding takedown procedures, cooperate withhotlines and share best practices.
European Strategy for a BetterInternet for Children December 2012
Onthe 26th and 27th of November, the European Council adopted conclusions on theEuropean Strategy for a Better Internet for Children. COFACEvery much supports the council conclusions and specifically the followingpoints:
- The necessity to address the particular needs and vulnerabilities ofchildren on-line, and to make the Internet a place of opportunity for allthe children of Europe regardless of ethnic,cultural and social background, and for children with disabilities and specialneeds.
- The recognised role of NGOs such as familyorganisations to: promote, produce and disseminate quality content incooperation with public or private actors, contribute to the awareness raisingand empowerment of families, parents and children alike, report on harmfulcontent to public authorities, being involved in the policy making process suchas the CEO Coalition.
- The need to empower (train) both children, teachers and parents with regards tothe opportunities and risks of the Internet.
- Implementprivacy by default settings and to develop and implementeffective ways of informing children and parents about their on-line privacysettings.
COFACEis an active stakeholder of the CEO Coalition and will keep monitoringdevelopments in the safer internet policy field closely.
Is a better internet for children possible? Safer Internet Forum 2012 October 2012
On the 18th and 19th of October, the EU Commission and INSAFE co-organised the 2012 Safer Internet Forum with the aim of discussing the creation of a better internet for children and young people. Many interesting points were raised and among these, many very relevant to the interest of families.
First off, the point was raised that parental control tools should be used to foster a dialogue between children and parents about their online activities. This was re-enforced by the idea to replace the parental "control" tools to parental "guidance" or "support" tools since these concepts translate into a more constructive use of these tools, more so than blind parental authority.
COFACE has always been supportive of this approach but a little more needs to be said about the use of parental "support" tools. All too often, there is a tendency to mix up digital parenting and use of parental "support" tools for very young children, children, teenagers, adolescents and young adults, especially when the later ask for more trust and less use of such tools by parents.
The reality is that very young children and adolescents have entirely different needs, skills, knowledge... and cannot be treated the same. MEP Sabine Verheyen pointed to the fact that children in kindergarten have the technical knowledge to use tools but have no idea about the consequences of their actions on their life.
The most important point to underline is that parents need to know their children and what they can, cannot do, if they are able to act responsibly with full knowledge of the consequences of their actions online. This can only happen if parents spend time with their children to discuss their online activities.
Based on these premises, parents need to adopt a gradual approach starting with setting up a "walled garden" with only white listed websites suitable for very young children, and gradually letting children explore more of the internet, introducing the safe use of search engines, signing up to social networks and controlling privacy settings. As their children grow and become more experienced, parents should adapt their use of parental "support" tools to their child's behaviour: if the child is online excessively long playing games, time restrictions may be the right response, if the child is unable to manage his/her spending online, restricting payment services might be a way to address the issue, all the while engaging in a discussion to explain why maintaining a healthy life balance or having proper financial management skills are important.
On a side note, it is essential that developers design parental "support" tools in a way which enables and encourages parents to adopt a "discussion" approach.
Secondly, Sonia Livingstone representing EU Kids Online underlined that children aren't exited any more about the internet and mostly focus on 4 key activities online: they do their homework via Google, they watch funny videos on YouTube, they check their messages on Facebook and they play online games.
There is a clear need to boost the creativity of children and encourage them to actively engage and participate in building a "better" internet rather than passively consume content.
Where some of these initiatives trigger a response of "over-protection" there is something to be said about the flipside of the coin, namely the commercialisation of the internet. Children are not encouraged to browse freely, and leave the website they are on, except to be trapped by scam perhaps. What made the internet so great and successful in the past, namely websites rich in hyperlinks and connected to other websites, transformed into a host of exclusive one-stop services like YouTube, Facebook... with the user having almost no power over the actual functioning of the service, encouraging passive consumption over active engagement.
Parental "support" tools are... well... tools! It is up to the parents, when given proper information, to use them in a positive way to ensure that their children get the most out of the web yet stay safe. For instance, when enabling whitelists for very young children, making sure that the websites whitelisted promote creativity and participation of children could have an enduring positive impact on future use of the internet as children grow older.
To conclude, COFACE wishes to share a thought from the Safer Internet Forum on what is a better internet:
"A better internet is young people taking control of the internet and participating on the basis of strong moral values".
Now it is up to NGOs, policy makers and the industry to make sure that the conditions for this to happen are optimal. In any case, COFACE keeps on advocating for the interest of children and parents online. More
The role of parents: to give support, parents need support
Parents play a key role in providing support for their children with their online experience in various ways. They can use technical mediation (use parental tools), restrictive mediation (forbid the use of the internet) or active mediation (discuss their child's activities online). Parents may feel overwhelmed and lost when confronted with the extremely fast paced innovation and change in both the online world and the technology (smartphones, tablets...). They therefore need specific help and assistance from a variety of actors to keep up with the change.
To assist and protect their children, parents need knowledge (awareness raising campaigns), time (policies reconciling work and family life – see COFACE's campaign) and often money (when using specific tools or devices).
However, whereas every actor can provide information (public authorities, NGOs and the industry), only companies can directly influence the development and functionality of most of the tools parents have at their disposal.
Several developments are needed to ensure that parents have adequate tools to support them in their digital parenting:
Devices need to be designed for children, with integrated parental controls and access to applications designed for children.
«By default» configurations of devices and services need to take more into account the specific needs of children and not just focus on «optimal user experience» where the «user» is seen as being an adult.
Parental control tools need to become increasingly interoperable to work across different devices and platforms in order to facilitate the lives of parents and not having to configure each and every device and different features separately.
Information campaigns need to contain real life examples of either risky or challenging online situations or positive online situations in order to be well understood by children. Vague messages such as «protect your private information» do not work very well because it is unclear what «private information» really means. Instead, taking the example of not sharing publicly the information that you are on holiday with your family because your house might get robbed is a real life situation (which actually happened on several occasions) and where children can directly see the negative consequences of their online behaviour.
Carry out more research on ICT skills of children and parents and their ability to cope with specific challenges such as recognizing spam, reporting abusive content, configuring privacy settings...
COFACE was invited to take part at the 6th International Conference "Keeping Children and Young People Safe Online" in Poland on 20th of September, to spoke about parents' role in online safety.
More information about the conference and watch the intervention of COFACE:
The Safer Internet CEO Coalition: slow but steady progress
On the 11th of July, the Commission published the mid-term report of the CEO coalition, bringing together key industry players and third parties dedicated to making the internet a better place for kids.
Out of the five action areas, COFACE focused on age-appropriate privacy settings, wider use of content classification and wider availability of parental control tools.
While progress has been slow, the next steps seem promising since they involve concrete actions.
As regards age-appropriate privacy settings, COFACE supports the idea of identifying best practices which can be scaled out to all actors in the field such as turning off by default geo-location and geo-tagging features.
On content classification, COFACE underlines the necessity for all industry players to agree on the interoperability of the various classification systems in order to effectively rate applications or user-generated content and allow for filtering tools to do their job properly.
Finally, on parental control tools, COFACE stresses the need to combine active choice and "default" settings when it comes to configuring parental control tools. On many devices such as mobile phones, parents do not take the time to either enable or set up the parental control tools. A dialog box upon start-up which prompts parents to enable parental control tools should not lead to a lengthy and burdensome configuration process but rather rely on appropriate default settings.
COFACE will continue to follow and participate in the CEO Coalition, keeping in mind the best interest of both children and parents, ensuring that kids enjoy a better online experience.
Safer Internet Day 2012: COFACE encourages the set up of privacy protection tools February 2012
Online advertising has been growing tremendously over the last decade. It has grown by 15.3% in 2010 and has reached 17.7 billion € in the EU.
In order to save money on advertising campaigns and avoid that consumers are exposed to irrelevant ads, behavioural or targeted advertising has steadily developed over the last few years. Although internet users might find it useful to be exposed to ads relevant to their interests, many concerns remain around the trade-offs of this new service. When considering the amount of private information that needs to be collected about an individual to show him/her ads relevant to his/her interests, consumers could become much less enthusiastic about behavioural advertising.
A parent concerned about his child's privacy, protection from tracking and unsolicited exposure to advertising will be glad to know that browsers can help. While Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer have chosen different strategies, all provide some form of ad-blocking features and tracking protections.
COFACE encourages parents concerned about privacy to set up tracking protection and ad-blocking. These features should be enabled on computers used by children, especially younger children, in order to safeguard them against ever more intrusive and insidious advertising and tracking.
"I am a parent and I want to configure my browser to protect me from tracking but I don't know how…"Depending on your browser, please follow the links below to configure your tracking protection tools:
COFACE acknowledges the positive effects of the Internet in the field of education, work, housing, health, social integration,… However, it contains hidden risks, especially for children and young people, such as exposure to illegal content and harmful conduct, bullying, violation of privacy, contacts with strangers, self exclusion,… These dangers are justified as technological developments allows the access to the Internet not only by PC but also by mobile telephone.
COFACE wishes to put forward some recommendations to European and national policy-makers supporting parents in their role of educators. It considers essential to:
- Raise awareness of parents.
- Train parents by supporting exchanges of good educational practices.
- Provide supporting technological tools.
- Promote positive content.
- Involve family organisations in the elaboration and the implementation of regulation measures.
- Research in the field of parental education and supervision.
- Provide support services to deal with self exclusion of young users.
The development of an Internet which is safe and respectful of fundamental rights must rely on the involvement of parents who have been empowered to fully understand the Internet. This involvement must build primarily on strong educative principles and dialogue between parent and child. Apart from education, any initiatives in view of regulation or classification of the Internet content and uses should involve all stakeholders: public authorities, services and content providers, researchers, and also users, family and child protection organisations.
COFACE focuses on parents, but many of these recommendations apply likewise to teachers, who should share the responsibility of educating children in this field. Recognition of this shared responsibility should translate into making media awareness a compulsory part of the school curriculum. Awareness raising and training actions should also be aimed at children themselves.