Children online: are empowerment and protection
and protection are often opposed to each other: too much protection would mean
fewer opportunities to develop digital skills for children, and focusing only
on empowerment would work in an ideal world with no contradictory messages lead
by commercial interests and unlimited time to empower children in all relevant
areas such as healthy nutrition, sexuality education, financial education…
order to strike the right balance between
these two strategies, we have to start with the right premises: recognising
that the average user does not exist
and that users are vulnerable. Be it
children, parents, grandparents, no one should be deemed inherently digitally
skilled (being a digital native).
that in mind, policy makers need to focus on adopting policies, crafting laws
and regulations that address the
specific vulnerabilities of the different user groups without limiting
their opportunities to learn and develop.
instance, cyberbullying has been in the political spotlight because existing
measures such as national or European laws or government action plans are not
addressing the problem.
stakeholders, for their part, should design
products and/or services that are accessible, understandable and usable in a
responsible way by all users.
can include Chatroulette or Snapchat, both of which have been misused by youth
and adults alike. Is it that the users are simply "evil" and really
think hard how to misuse a well thought and designed service or are their
controversial behaviors linked directly to the design of the service?
both public and private actors, it is essential to consult with civil society organizations, especially those working
at the grassroot level (hotlines, helplines, safer internet centers, family
organizations). These organizations have extensive experience with the problems
faced online by children and can provide insightful advice on policy measures
or product and service design.
both public and private actors play a role in empowering children, only civil
society can ensure a conflict of
interest free empowerment of children. Consequently, especially in this
difficult economic context with many budget cuts, it would be a mistake to cut
funding to civil society.
Children connect to the internet with mobile
devices at an ever earlier age. Fast evolution in the field of ICT creates new
challenges and opportunities.
While some years ago parents could still monitor
their children's use of the internet on the home computer, access to the
internet has become ever more mobile.
Children have, at their fingertips, access to an unprecedented wealth of
information and a way to interact with the whole world. At the same time, a
certain 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 and
excessive use/time spent on the internet are real and can have enduring negative
effects on the development of children.
What can we do?
In essence, keeping
children safe online is the responsibility of all actors. Parents,
teachers, service providers, hardware manufacturers, policy makers...
At the same time, parents are the primary
educators of children and in the case of young children, parents are virtually the sole reference for establishing healthy
habits and adhering to core values such as respect, be it online or
need to learn as early as possible about their rights and responsibilities and parents are among the first to initiate
this learning process.
Knowledge these two dimensions can help children
put 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 mind
the consequences should they be a perpetrator.
CEO Coalition to make internet a better place for children
the 22nd of January, the EU Commission held the 1st year review
meeting of the CEO Coalition to make internet a better place for children. The
purpose of the meeting was to look back at the commitments and objectives that
the CEO Coalition was set to achieve in the five different working groups and
discuss the next steps, further need for improvement and agreeing on the review
process (reporting, monitoring, evaluation).
the first working group on reporting
tools, mobile operators and industry stakeholders will work to provide apps
that will enable children to report harmful contents or contacts. In addition, companies will work with NGOs
and hotlines to provide browser apps that enable users to seek help with a single click.
the second working group on age-appropriate
privacy settings, companies pulled together a comprehensive and comparative
database (September 2012) that illustrates the current practices when it comes
to age-appropriate privacy settings for minors. Best practices still need to
be identified from this database and agreed upon among the various
the third working group on wider use of
content classification, the stakeholders agreed to work on a common
data-model for interoperable online labels and explore options for
machine-readability in different online contexts. A reflection on how users understand the different classification systems and making
sure that it is easy for users to filter content or choose content based on
classification systems needs to be carried out.
the fourth working group on wider
availability and use of parental controls, companies agreed to provide
parental control tools and give clear information to users by the end of
2013. A continued effort on awareness
raising needs to be done in cooperation with all stakeholders given the small uptake
of parental controls by parents.
the fifth and last working group on effective
takedown of child abuse material, industry will continue to work on
providing increased transparency regarding takedown procedures, cooperate with
hotlines and share best practices.
European Strategy for a Better
Internet for Children December 2012
the 26th and 27th of November, the European Council adopted conclusions on the
European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children. COFACE
very much supports the council conclusions and specifically the following
- The necessity to address the particular needs and vulnerabilities of
children on-line, and to make the Internet a place of opportunity for all
the children of Europe regardless of ethnic,
cultural and social background, and for children with disabilities and special
- The recognised role of NGOs such as family
organisations to: promote, produce and disseminate quality content in
cooperation with public or private actors, contribute to the awareness raising
and empowerment of families, parents and children alike, report on harmful
content to public authorities, being involved in the policy making process such
as the CEO Coalition.
- The need to empower (train) both children, teachers and parents with regards to
the opportunities and risks of the Internet.
privacy by default settings and to develop and implement
effective ways of informing children and parents about their on-line privacy
is an active stakeholder of the CEO Coalition and will keep monitoring
developments 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.