Insafe network kicks-off IGF 2017 with pre-event on child friendliness of terms and conditions

On Sunday, 17 December 2017, the Insafe network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) in Europe hosted a pre-event at the 12th edition of the Annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF), organised this year at the premises of the United Nations' headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The one-hour session brought together panellists from the private sector and civil society, as well as youth representatives from the Netherlands and Greece, to discuss "Generation Z: Are children conditioned to accept terms and conditions?". 

According to recent estimates, one in three internet users are children below the age of 18, with an increasing proportion living in the Global South. Members of the so-called "Generation Z" – born after the mid 1990s – can spend up to over 20 hours a week online, sharing photos, consuming "content" and talking to friends. The technical affordances of the internet have made it possible for digital platforms to collect and monetise large amounts of personal information from children. While young social media users will typically consider themselves as proficient, the Growing Up Digital report published by the UK Children's Commissioner in January 2017 found that children sign up for terms and conditions that they do not understand.

During the session, panellists discussed the extent to which children and young people understand the terms and conditions they agree to when being online, downloading an app or creating an account on social media platforms. The panellists also debated what stakeholders from the public and private sector can do to support children and young people in this case. 

After a short round of introductions, the panellists quickly agreed that there is a clear need to make terms and conditions more user-friendly. Looking at current examples, the terms and conditions of Instagram, one of the most popular social networks among young people, consists of 17 pages and 5,000 words, with a language and sentence structure only a postgraduate law student could be expected to understand.

Asking the youth panellists for their wish list in order to make terms and conditions more attractive, various great ideas were collected:

"Make the language more age appropriate, so a 13-year-old can understand it as well."
"Use animations and visuals, such as a short introduction video, that is mandatory to watch before using the services."
"Make a quiz to collect the right answers in order to be able to understand the terms and conditions and download the app."
"Presenting terms and conditions not as one document, but implement a short FAQ or decision tree, that request user to accept or decline different regulations and policies step by step."

In response, representatives from industry agreed with the ideas of the young people and outlined that this would be feasible from a technical point of view.

And, as an app developer of a personal robotic assistant for young children online which helps them to be more aware, secure and private online and to engage positively with digital media, commented, it's important to present terms and conditions in a more user-friendly way to be compliant with the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, while industry can provide the technical implementation needed, more awareness and education is necessary in this regard.

The panellist from the No Hate Speech Movement stressed the importance of hearing children's voices on this issue, highlighting also a Council of Europe project: "Participation of Children in the Drafting of the Guidelines on Children and the Digital Environment". Regarding the goals of this Movement, the fact that users are able to better understand the content of terms and conditions would enable them to be more aware of information society services and the impact these can have in countering hate speech online. The Council of Europe has recently launched a new resource to develop counter and alternative narratives. Titled "WE CAN", it has already been translated into several languages.

As stated in the Growing Up Digital report of the UK Children's Commissioner: "Every child in the country should study digital citizenship." Panellists, namely young people, agreed that this is indeed the way to go, especially educating children from a very young age onwards, right the way through high school until they graduate.

Agreeing that this obviously needs further efforts from all stakeholders involved, the panel closed by emphasising the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach when making terms and conditions more child friendly. While industry obviously plays a key role, the education sector, as well as parents and carers, need to support these efforts also. In addition, communication is an important aspect and, while great resources and materials already exist, a more transparent way to communicate and disseminate these needs to be found, especially to make them more attractive for young people.

This workshop was merely the starting point of an ongoing dialogue. As such, the Insafe network invites everyone to continue the conversation during the week ahead at IGF 2017, but also looking ahead to Safer Internet Day 2018 – a global, landmark event celebrated in over 130 countries. Taking place on Tuesday, 6 February 2018, it's a day during which we all stand together and raise our voices for a better internet echoing the days' theme of "Create, connect and share respect: a better internet starts with you".

During the whole week of IGF 2017, 18-21 December 2017, the Insafe-INHOPE network will host a booth in the IGF village, promoting among other activities, Safer Internet Day 2018. Follow the debates on social media using the official conference hashtag of #IGF2017, as well as the Safer Internet Day campaign hashtags #SID2018 and #SaferInternetDay.

Find out more about Insafe and INHOPE's participation in IGF over the years on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal.

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