Cybersecurity

Online safety legislation: What’s in store for children’s digital playgrounds?

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As the safety and privacy of children online becomes an increasingly pressing issue, lawmakers around the world are pushing for new regulations in the digital world

Tomorrow is Safer Internet Day (SID), an annual awareness campaign that started in Europe in 2004 and aims to highlight the need for people to enjoy the benefits of the internet while reducing their exposure to online risks. Now at 20th edition, SID has grown to become a landmark event on the global digital security calendar, with various supporting organizations from around the world working together for a better internet.

This challenge becomes greater and, in fact, more acute when it comes to keeping children, youth, and preteens safe. During a pandemic, kids screen time increased 1.5 timesleaving millions of overconfident digital natives vulnerable to fraud, cyberbullying, harassment, and doxing.

As overwhelmed parents, caregivers and educators struggle to keep up with the ever-changing realities of the online world and evolving and emerging risks, children’s digital safety has grown to become a global concern. Whether you are a caregiver, educator, researcher or have a role in policy making, there is much we can do to facilitate healthy digital behavior in young people and the future.

FIRST: From the government to civil organizations

Despite all the risks, it is important to remember the benefits of technology: access to information, learning opportunities, socialization, discovery of different cultures and places, and much more. Children are exposed to an unprecedented amount of knowledge. And, inevitably, they will grow up immersed in technology and interconnectivity, making it all the more relevant for preparing them for the online world as we do for other parts of their everyday well-being.

And while parents and educators are in the spotlight, it’s safe to say that the way we care for our children is governed by the work of lawmakers who incorporate agreed-upon items into national legislation, for example, in Convention on the Rights of the Child. As such, lawmakers have a very important job when it comes to ensuring the privacy and safety of children online.

Several government entities at various levels have been working to help ensure child protection online. For example, the European Commission Strategy 2022 for a better internet for kids (BIK+) is “the digital arm of the child rights strategy and reflects recently proposed the digital principle that ‘Children and youth should be protected and empowered online.’” It includes several recommendations for developing age identification methods, a cyberbullying helpline, and the need to work with trusted whistleblowers to quickly assess and remove illegal content. In parallel, the EU Digital Services Act (DSA) requires that the company “puts the interests of children at the forefront of their considerations.”

Simultaneously, similar discussions are taking place in the United States with Children and Youth Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) and The Children’s Online Safety Act (KOSA).

The first is built on existing COPPA laws that, among other things, aims to protect children under 13 years of age from websites and online services that request their personal information by seeking parental consent for data collection and use. The latter, meanwhile, acknowledged the “role of social media platforms in the mental health crisis” of children and youth. The measure is expected to create a “duty of care” whereby social media platforms, streaming services and video game makers take responsibility for preventing harmful behavior towards minors, for example by implementing new content filters and providing new tools for parents.

To finalize this proposed law, EU and US lawmakers have sought advice from civic organizations, informal groups, NGOs and researchers. In the case of the US, due to the specific nature of this law, the members of Congress in charge of KOSA included in their hearings the parents of children who died from the harmful effects of social media, thereby making their voices heard.

On the other hand, when the bill reached the US Senate, several organizations, including the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Wikimedia Foundation, and the Yale Privacy Lab, sent a letter to the upper house of Congress warned of potential “unintended consequences” of passing KOSA. According to the organization, “content filtering is highly imprecise; filter used by the school And library in response to the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which has limited access to important information such as sex education,” but KOSA can also have “the practical effect of enabling parental supervision of 15 and 16 year olds.”

SECOND: From academics and researchers to educators

In October 2022, four university researchers from North Carolina published a study entitled “Concerns and Actions of Teachers and Schools for the Digital Security of Elementary School Children”. The paper – published in TechTrends, a journal for professionals in educational communications and technology – echoes schoolteachers’ concerns over children’s digital safety, warning that “while children are exposed to the online world at a younger age, they do not yet know how to . safely navigate the world in terms of privacy and security.” Instead, teachers are left to “support their students’ digital security by developing their own professional knowledge of digital security”.

These researchers provide a unique perspective on the issues facing teachers by exploring their experiences with students’ digital safety, enabling the categorization of five important areas of concern:

  • Content related: searching for inappropriate material and accessing inappropriate websites
  • Contact related: inappropriate contact with strangers online, sharing information without feeling any risk
  • Behavior related: cyberbullying, inappropriate peer interactions, lack of awareness of digital footprint
  • Regarding contracts: lack of awareness of digital security and privacy
  • Related to home: lack of parental monitoring of online activity

Ultimately, this work, among other scholarly research, reflects teacher experience and is an important resource for legislators and others developing internet safety guidelines.

THIRD: Parents and caregivers

According to a Pew Research Center Survey as of December 2022, 46% of US youth ages 13 to 17 have been bullied or harassed online. Among the most common types of harassment are name-calling, spreading false rumors, receiving unsolicited messages with explicit content, receiving requests for personal information, receiving physical threats, or sharing messages without consent.

Meanwhile, in a separate questionnaire, parents say their biggest worry is their teens’ exposure to explicit content along with wasting time on social media and being distracted from homework. Being abused or bullied is only a concern for 29% of parents.

Being a caregiver in the digital age is, no doubt, an extraordinary task that requires constant awareness, up-to-date knowledge and, no less importantly, enough. time: a time to talk about digital safety, a time to discover all the apps kids use and all the games they play, and a time to set up parental controls and keep an eye on kids’ online activity. And while school and work used to have space and time, home offices and school from home have changed that.

While MPs’ work should make it easier for parents to ensure the safety of their children, that is not always the case. Recently, several streaming services and social media platforms start asking for birth dates of children to continue providing their services, leaving parents confused and unsure: should they provide such personal information? Or should they provide it to ensure their kids are watching age-appropriate content?

New laws on children’s online privacy and safety, including COPPA 2.0, KOSA, and The new California Children’s Privacy Act, prompting the companies behind these services to request detailed information to ensure their compliance with the law. However, the problem is that even if children still have a small digital footprint, they may become more subject to targeted advertisements and recommendations. Additionally, the risk of leaks involving more detailed information about a child makes them more vulnerable to bad actors.

Little rules we can all uphold

As the distinction between “online” and “offline” seems to fade or even become obsolete, finding the best way to guide children through the complexities of security, privacy, abuse, and the difference between “what’s funny” and “what’s hurtful” can be overwhelming. normal.

So while we all figure this out, here are a few little things we can say to the kids now:

  • You don’t know who is on the other side of the screen.
  • Never share personal information (name, address, school, etc.) with anyone on the internet.
  • Use nicknames and avatars.
  • Don’t argue online.
  • Don’t let anyone argue with you online. Block them and tell the adults.
  • Never meet a stranger online in person, just like you would never get into a stranger’s car.
  • What goes on the internet, stays on the internet – forever. Nothing secret.
  • Even lost messages can live forever if someone takes a screenshot.
  • Even friends can share things that you asked them not to share with anyone, so don’t post things you don’t want others to see.
  • Don’t let your friends take your device and play with it without your supervision.



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