Children and the Internet: From Safer to Better

Mike Short, Vice-President of Telefonica Europe, reflects on ten years of Safer Internet Day and the challenges and opportunities ahead in the digital world.

 

In recent years the European Commission has understandably looked at the opportunities and challenges of the internet for young people.  Significantly, in 2012 the EU regrouped a lot of their activities in this area under the policy umbrella of “Better Internet for Kids”, including its support for EU Safer Internet Day, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary.

 

A decade ago the internet was barely in people’s homes, let alone available on the move.  Mobile messaging had started, but email was confined to a few people in business.   Since then, O2 has been heavily committed to making technology accessible to all, with customers at the heart of everything we do.

 

We were the first to launch the Blackberry in Europe and won the exclusive right to launch the iPhone in the UK in 2007.  We are now leading in public wifi, with family friendly filtering at MacDonalds, Costa Coffee, Debenhams, Cafe Rouge and the many other venues, stores and restaurants where we provide free wifi.

 

Parents know that modern mobile communication helps their children stay safe, keep in touch, have fun and learn.  But they also want the reassurance that their children are protected from inappropriate content on the internet.  We understand how they feel.

 

That’s why we were the first mobile operator to join the Internet Watch Foundation, which works to remove illegal content from the internet and helped write the UK Mobile Content Code, which defines inappropriate internet content.  18 plus content is blocked behind an age verification process and we have a website – www.o2.co.uk/parents – specifically for parents, giving them information and advice on how they can better understand and manage their children’s internet usage.

 

In preparation for this year’s EU Safer Internet Day, our in-store O2 Gurus have been working hard to ensure they have all the internet safety information and knowledge necessary to provide high quality advice to parents.

 

The internet has transformed how people learn, work and socialise, but with new internet developments come new risks and opportunities. Some internet needs to be nurtured for free flow of knowledge and information, which sometimes can take us between freedom of speech and data privacy – or between inappropriate content and reasonable sharing.  O2 does not wish to be judge and jury over content.  We firmly believe that age verification has a vital role to play in protecting children, but it must not be a substitute for dialogue between parents and children.

 

We believe that in addition to dialogue in the home, effective discussion in school in important.  That’s why we support the inclusion of digital literacy and internet safety in the school curriculum.

 

The mobile industry innovates quickly and so will the advice we give to our customers.  As we move forward, the role of Apps (and their Apps stores), devices and their distribution channels will all play a bigger role.  While we may be able to empower customers with added or even personalised filters for children, Apps may be developed that offer summary records of internet sites visited or permissions to access pre-selected child friendly sites.

 

As O2 does not sell all the phones it connects, we do need to see device vendors make filtering capabilities more visible that they are today, irrespective of which channel is used for sale.

 

We are moving into a period of more e-commerce and information availability. This will mean we will need to strengthen our range of family friendly products and services and their associated support. Raising digital confidence and assurance around data privacy will all be part of this support.

 

Finally, we will need more educational and advisory materials – online and offline – to help parents and teachers navigate through the ever evolving internet world.  Safer Internet Day is just one key landmark on the journey.  Onwards and upwards for the next ten years.