2018 has generally been a very busy year for both policymakers and industry. Whether it was due to a turning point in EU data protection with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) having come into action, or due to amendments to copyright law in the EU (Art. 11 and 13), or simply evolving behaviours and challenges on the internet (unprecedented levels of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), sextortion, dangerous online challenges), 2018 has brought about a series of changes which have, to a great extent, modified online environments and the way in which citizens behave online.
A truly European campaign
With all this in mind, the time was ripe for a new EU-wide awareness raising campaign. Launched by Commissioner Mariya Gabriel on the occasion of Safer Internet Day 2018, the #SaferInternet4EU campaign aimed to promote media literacy, online safety and cyber hygiene among European citizens everywhere under one umbrella. The campaign, which is still ongoing, consisted of four main actions in 2018. First a MOOC (massive open online course) on online safety was organised, followed by an EU-wide competition focusing on best practices (resources, videos, campaigns, events, and so on) and a back to school-mini campaign taking the audience on a virtual road trip around Europe to browse through online safety events. In October, an online learning event focusing on cyber hygiene was organised during the European Cyber Security Month (ECSM) and finally, in December, the year was closed off in great style with the #SaferInternet4EU advent calendar mini-campaign, promoting some of the best online safety resources from the Insafe network of Safer Internet Centres.
The crowning event of the campaign was the #SaferInternet4EU Awards ceremony, which took place at the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) in Brussels in November 2018. Following an open competition, a review process by a jury of experts, and a public vote, one organisation, one teacher and one group of teenagers won first prize for the most innovative, far-reaching resource, initiative or campaign on the topic of online safety, media literacy and/or cyber hygiene.
The #SaferInternet4EU campaign will continue into 2019, so we encourage institutions and companies to get on board and support our upcoming events. More information will become available on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal soon.
A turning point in EU data protection law and online services for children
The adoption of the GDPR in late May 2018 meant for most EU citizen a flood of emails from retailers, service providers, companies, and so on, asking them to confirm their consent to having their personal data processed and stored, provided it be used for easily identifiable and specific purposes. More than just a source of stress for companies, should they breach these new regulations by going about their business as usual, the GDPR was an absolute game changer also when it comes to children's rights and online safety and privacy. Article 8, which concerns the age of consent when it comes to online services, is the turning point for protecting children online by ensuring that every young user is mature enough to agree to terms and conditions and is in a position to give consent to something that can affect their online lives. There has been much debate surrounding diverging views on the "digital coming of age", which is easily observable in our extensive mapping of EU Member states, performed by two researchers at Ghent University.
Whether one age is deemed better than another when it comes to consent widely depends on the country. However, already having an open discussion surrounding these topics is highly encouraging for the digital future in Europe. Many things still need to be ironed out, such as what happens when a young person has a (legal) account in their country and moves with their family in a country where it is not. One thing is clear, however – we can now talk about a pre- and a post-GDPR age in which EU citizens are more in control of what happens to their personal data.
A mapping tool for Better Internet for Kids policies across the EU
Similar to how various member states decided to implement Article 8 of the GDPR, referring to the "age of consent" for digital services and platforms, each country in the EU has a very different approach to how it implements the themes and recommendations of the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children (or BIK strategy), which was first set out by the European Commission in May 2012. For this precise reason, in March last year, the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Policy Map was launched, to compare and exchange knowledge on BIK policymaking and implementation in EU Member States.
The BIK strategy focuses on five main fields of activity or pillars, which are mapped across the continent highlighting their level of implementation:
- Pillar 1: Stimulating quality content online for young people
- Pillar 2: Digital/media literacy in education
- Pillar 3: Stepping up awareness and empowerment
- Pillar 4: Tools and regulation for an online safe environment
- Pillar 5: Legislation and law enforcement against child sexual abuse and exploitation
The map provides a very good overview of Member States' approaches to various aspects of the strategy in a concise manner. The map tool can be browsed on the betterinternetforkids.eu portal, where the full report can also be downloaded.
What are we looking forward to in the upcoming months and years?
When it comes to the tech industry, as we do every year, we encourage players to create and promote positive content and safe services online, and to empower users to respond to any issues by providing clear safety advice, a range of easy-to-use safety tools, and quick access to support if things happen to go badly.
Additionally, we would advise that more social media providers tackle the "digital attention crisis" by encouraging their (young) users to use their time online wisely and focus more on the quality of what they do and consume online, rather than the quantity (see initiatives such as the Time well spent movement). This can also mean developing apps in such a way that are less addictive and do not keep children and young people hooked for more than is useful and healthy for them. Especially for young users, their presence online should not be seen as a source of profit, but should focus more on users' wellbeing.
As more and more children and teenagers are going online at an increasingly young age, it is important that they be engaged and their voices heard, especially when it comes to their concerns, their online needs, and their physical and mental wellbeing. What is more, online services and platforms should always be built with a safety-by-default approach.
For these very reasons, we would like to encourage the production of more positive content for young children, namely "digital content aimed at children, which enables them to learn, have fun, create, enjoy, develop a positive view of themselves and respect for their identity, enhance their participation in society and produce and distribute their own positive content". While it is nearly impossible to tick all boxes, we encourage industry to take heed of as many aspects mentioned in the positive online content checklist before setting out to create any new digital content, particularly aimed at children aged between 0 and 12 years old.
Furthermore, we would encourage more organisations and companies to join the Alliance to better protect minors online, which, as a self-regulatory initiative aims to improve children and young people's online experiences by minimising the potential exposure of children to harmful content, harmful conduct and harmful contact. More information about the Alliance's purpose and aims is available on the Digital Single Market's blog.
For decision makers and politicians, we would like to renew our recommendation of including opportunities in the curriculum for children and young people to learn about online safety and supporting online safety initiatives at both European and national levels.
Parents and teachers play a crucial role in educating their children and pupils to become educated, engaged and responsible users of modern technologies. In order for them to be role models for their children and pupils, they need to be supported and to have access to appropriate information and materials, and it is up to politicians and legislators to provide the necessary culture and environment where this can happen.
Finally, policy makers should take the lead in governance and legislation, and ultimately ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and young people through effective child protection strategies for the digital world.
Talk about us on social media
Last but not least, we encourage policymakers and industry alike to join the online conversation surrounding SID on Twitter by using the hashtags #SaferInternetDay and #SID2019. Share your perspective on a better and safer internet and get involved for SID 2019.
You can also add a badge to your (personal and/or corporate) social media profiles using Twibbon to show your community that you are part of the better internet movement. Don't forget to watch a video message about the SID 2019 global rally for everyone to work "Together for a better internet".
Find out what others are doing in your country and join in!
SID is a truly global event. It is celebrated in more than 140 countries by millions of children, teenagers, parents, teachers, educators, social workers, policymakers and industry, all united to make the internet a better place where everyone is empowered to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. See what is happening in our partners' countries and register your own support on the SID website.
Show your support for SID and join "Together for a better internet" on Tuesday, 5 February 2019.