Yesterday I participated in the “Digital Confidence” event hosted by O2/Telefonica that was designed to bring together the “key stakeholders and policymakers to discuss some of the issues surrounding the online privacy of children” and involved a collaboration with a wide range of partners.
First and foremost this was a brilliant initiative for a mobile operator to undertake and I expect competitors to try and emulate this thought leadership model for industry engagement. The issues surrounding the activities of children when online are very difficult to understand and emotionally charged so this is inevitably going to be a difficult area that big corporates would typically be more comfortable being “seen to be doing something” (eg. donate to a charity, set up a webpage, place leaflets instore, etc) than to actually try to do something to add value and engage quite openly on the topic. As such it’s surprising to me that it took the mobile operator with the largest number of subscribers to take this initiative but I understand that a lot of the momentum for this to happen came from Mike Short, VP Research, who truly deserves a big credit. Well done Mike.
The event was opened up by Ronan Dunne, CEO of Telefónica/O2 UK, which gave a good indication of the high priority that they’re placing on getting this right.
Whilst it’s all going to come down to the execution I really think they have taken the right approach to these issues (link to Prof Sonia Livingstone’s personal website):
Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, followed with an explanation of the impact of their “mandatory breach notifications” (that will require brands to inform the regulator AND customers of unintentional information leaks). I think it’s a great thing that the ICO is reminding service providers of the responsibility they have for the information they are using and it’s great to hear that there will be “no more hiding things under the carpet either from me or your customers”.
Although the majority of concern for kids is about what they are sharing publicly and how the detailed T&C small print of web service providers is preventing them from having to take any responsibility, it’s vitally important that organisations entrusted to handle information about young people and their families accept the responsibility and take the appropriate level of care.
Thankfully the Information Commissioners Office is a real trove of educational resources – so if you’re uncertain or there’s anything you need to know more about you can always order some of their free publications. All the same considering the focus of this event I was a little surprised that John didn’t elaborate on the useful pages they’ve produced for young people.
Christopher also discussed his ability to enforce penalties (of up to £500,000) for offenders who show ignorance or just don’t bother with the need to adhere to the data protection policies. He explained that he’s done this so far on 4 occasions and that the 5th is being debated at the moment. It immediately becomes obvious why Blackberry were an organising sponsor when you look at the profiles of the organisations that have received the first 4 monetary penalties eg. Hertfordshire County Council (accidentally sent faxes), A4e Employment Services (Loss of an unencrypted laptop), Ealing (£80,000) and Hounslow (£70,000) Councils (Theft of unencrypted laptops).
I am still amazed that no other mobile device manufacturer has identified and prioritised this market as a key strategic opportunity particularly as once the implementation is done and staff are familiarised with the new more efficient working practices there’s going to be little reason to change the brand of device provider. It’s interesting that the penalties being handed out happen to be roughly equivalent to the price of a low end Blackberry device for every customer whose personal data you’ve potentially exposed. So even in a down turn it seems that Blackberry sales people must be having it easy: “Buy all your EMPLOYEES a Blackberry or the IC may give you a fine that’ll be equivalent to you having to buy all your CUSTOMERS a BlackBerry!”
Following this talk Pat Walshe, Director of Privacy at the GSMA, asked a question about cookies and it really highlighted how fast this personal data arms race is moving. With persistent digital fingerprinting cookies (which you’ve got some chance of blocking in the first place) really aren’t the highest priority right now particularly as there are technical and legal solutions already in place. It also, for me, reinforces a sentiment that we’re probably better off letting the device makers earn their reputations on by helping their customers safeguard their privacy rather than trying to mandate things which could actually slow innovation happening.
Next question was from John Carr, an adviser on internet safety to the UK Government & member of the Executive Board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, who explained to the Information Commissioner how he felt the minimum age cut off point was unworkable and should be removed unless its subjectively based. I was surprised to hear the commissioner’ misunderstanding of this well made point as he replied that he didn’t “think raising age limitations is going to be the answer, as the clever kid is going to get round them”.
I was also left a little confused by his approach to privacy statements when he suggested that “privacy statements on sites designed for children should be clearer” – I wonder if he appreciates that children aren’t overly concerned by these and that although the ICO do this (eg. Youth/Adult) a lot of good sites get by with using the same well written one for both their youth and adult presences (eg. BBC/cBeebies) – after all plenty of adults have problems with difficult to read/understand t&c’s too!
Ronan Dunne then pointed to the excellent work O2 are doing to promote Britains Biggest Classroom and the interest this is attracting from around the world…. he didn’t mention that this is also getting important recognition from the NUT and is definitely something you should check out/get involved with if you’re involved in teaching.
I’m particularly interested in this initiative as I can see it having a massive impact on the education of kids affected by illness who regularly have to miss school to attend clinics or stay in hospital. It’s worth being mindful that this disadvantage can often have even more detrimental long term effects than the primary illness.
Jeremy Todd, CEO of Family Lives, was next up introducing the first panel and I was amazed to learn that this organisation is in touch with a million families a year. Unfortunately Jeremy hadn’t given his presentation slides to the organisers so the best I can give you is their website.
Luc Delany, European Policy Manager, Facebook went first and in his first line I felt he perfectly addressed the misunderstanding that lies at the heart of the major problem being faced when children are online: “It used to be that on the internet no one knows you’re a dog, but now people are actively choosing to identify themselves”
Luc then went on to expand on how Facebook has “2 profiles of users”, those aged 13-17 and those aged 18+. I was surprised by this as if you understand the first thing about Facebook’s advertiser based revenue model you’ll know that this is complete nonsense eg. “Reach The Exact Audience You Want With Relevant Targeted Ads”. Similarly if you check out the age verification page it’s easy to see why a lot of kids have chosen their age as (real age +10 years), entitling them to see a whole range of accurately targeted adult advertiser content.
Christopher Woolard, Group Director, Content, International and Regulatory Development, OFCOM, was next and he shared some as yet unpublished statistics from their Children’s Media Literacy Tracker that I found very interesting. According to OFCOM, TV is still king for kids (I’ve got serious doubts about this one)
Social networking amongst children of all ages has exploded, 23% of kids aged 5-7 years are now using online social networks (I can imagine this would be a lot higher if they counted Nintindo DS connected games etc) and 79% of those aged 12-15.
Whilst 80% of parents think they are aware of the issues less than half actually put any content controls in place – which isn’t too surprising when you realise that nearly 20% of parents of children aged 5-7 say that their child knows more about the internet than they do.
1/3 of young people say it is easier to talk about personal things online. This is something that I think provides evidence for the urgent need for social services and child health providers to develop intelligent interactive questionnaires to help kids better share their feelings and concerns.
Joe Godwin, Controller cBeebies, opened up with something really interesting by claiming that it’s not “a fact that there’s too many TV’s in childrens bedrooms, it’s a debate”. Whilst I disagreed with this I thought he more than made up for it by drawing a useful analogy with swimming pools for how we should manage kids online: yes we put warning signs up but we also teach them how to swim.
Sue Minto, Head of Services at NSPCC/Childline, was next up. The talk started with an explanation of the online privacy tools that they’ve incorporated into their website such as a “hide page” button (that takes you to a google homepage) and advice on deleting your history/cookies, etc.
Am I missing soemthing here or isn’t this all outdated? Why teach kids to use a “Hide Page” button in 2011 when everyone’s browser got a home hot link button that directs to their real (and much more innocuous looking) homepage? Wouldn’t it be more effective to use that opportunity to instead encourage the child to use a browser that features “incognito” or “private” browsing functionality so that they could just shut the site down leaving no record at all?
When I checked out their online instructions I also realised they’re not very well designed at all eg. the advice on deleting history:
Instead of a text list why don’t they just show the icon logos to help kids identify the browser they use eg:
I was amazed to hear of how slow this very well known charity has been to move to online engagement and how far they are from doing it effectively. It’s amazing to learn that it only launched its website in 2009 (until then it was just a telephone voice call based service) but I wasn’t at all surprised to learn how ineffective their strategy is proving to be with young people although it seemed Sue wasn’t even aware that these are problems:
> Today 16% of ChildLine calls are silent (and they don’t ring them back)
> Lots of times kids say “I’ve called you 7-8 times but this was the first time I felt I could talk”
> Although they don’t yet use SMS Sue told us that they get “700 letters a month from kids”
> The service has started to use “Private Email”
I think the team at ChildLine would do very well to learn more about how kids use SMS. I’d bet if they saw a kid sending a message under the table (without even looking at their hands or the mobile screen) I’m sure they’d see the opportunity they are missing out on here.
It was times like this when I felt the event should have had some savvy young adults present in the audience as I’m sure they’d have never let this one pass. I’m also amazed that they’ve now started engaging at the deep end on online networking communities designed to be used by adults yet still have no means for adults to make a report to them (As you can see in the following image ChildLine refers adults to the NSPCC) and haven’t really begun to manage how their brand has already been used in these communities (eg. in a widespread scam that encouraged youngsters to support ChildLine by uploading a cartoon image to their profile).
I can’t figure the point of this as to me it just seems like ChildLine is ducking the big opportunity to make a difference. If an adult saw the next door neighbours 9 year old child (pretending to be a 19 year old adult) on Facebook sharing private photos and engaging with adult content wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to engage with ChildLine? Imagine being able to press a button that just say “Hey I’ve seen this and think you could help this kid!” – I’m sure it would be much safer than that adult directly communicating with the minor and done right it could help ChildLine effectively leverage their privileged relationship with Facebook to do a lot of good.
Sue then talked of the online community ChildLine have created and I was dumbfounded to hear of the strategy they’ve taken here especially in light of the horrific statistics she shared eg. 74% of young people have sent a sexual image of them self. I was looking forward to hearing about how they are monitoring the content and users but what I got has me shocked: “we don’t want to police the site”.
Maybe I’m too cynical but I just cannot make sense of this: ChildLine advertise on other social networks (Stardoll is their top referring site and they started to advertise on Facebook on the afternoon of 17 March and they’ve already drawn over 7,000 additional visitors) to attract kids who are “wanting to talk about something”.
These new arrivals then come into a community that is filled with other kids who have their own issues. These kids then talk with and advise each other. ChildLine hope that these kids on threads about things like “eating disorders and losing weight” will regulate themselves effectively and have “found they did it very well so we left it alone”. I’m amazed they’re not doing more to police and monitor the threads (even just to try and ensure depraved adults aren’t snooping about in there trying to connect privately/off-line with vulnerable kids) but I’d be confident that whilst the threads may LOOK like they’re nicely being regulated by the more sensible/responsible members the lack of policing will merely lead to kids with similar interests (eg. youngsters with anorexia nervosa) taking their discussions off the community into private dialogue (eg. SMS, IM) with members who share their interests (eg. losing weight). In my opinion if ChildLine can’t police a community it shouldn’t be assuming this place of trust by hosting/branding it.
Sue then talked of the “benefits” of having unsupervised internet connected computers in childrens bedrooms and again I’m scratching my head in disbelief. This is exactly the type of nonsense that is endangering kids and is being peddled by the less informed parents who just think it’s great to have their kids out of sight occupied with something in their bedrooms.
I’m annoyed that a representative of ChildLine didn’t just cut to the point and say it clearly: If you wouldn’t leave your child in the park alone don’t leave them alone on the internet. No ifs or buts.
Questions from the floor started with Michael Smith a Managing Consultant at Detica (a BAE Systems owned Cyber Security firm) raising the topic of content blocking. OFCOM’s Chris Woolard was quick to point to his stats showing less than half of parents who knew about the issues actually bothered to do anything, before outlining what he felt was the biggest issue of blocking software: that it becomes inconvenient if the computer is shared.
Joe Godwin, cBBC, commented on how he was horrified to learn that visitors couldn’t view his cBBC content and suggested “overblocking” was the biggest reason for parental controls to be turned off.
Next up was a question from Phil Butler, Director at the Centre of CyberCrime and Computer Security at Newcastle University who explained why he thought the “internet is a jungle” and the problems he’d faced trying to get parents to physically attend his training classes. He then asked “what was the solution?” which is something that I think all of the speakers could have tried harder to offer.
> Jeremy Todd, Chief Executive of Family Lives, replied that he felt this was a role of the schools – I’d bet that wouldn’t go down quite so well with the NUT!
Joe Godwin then made some great points talking of the reach that can be attained through other media (eg. TV soaps etc) and the importance of quality editorial and good story telling if you want to be effective. This was supported by Helen King, Head of Education, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) who followed up on this by pointing to the work of the soap Waterloo Road as it reached “hard to reach” communities with a scenario on young people sending sexual images of themselves (stexting).
John Carr, Government adviser on Child Safety, was next up asking a question and his passion for the topic was very clear. He outlined his issue with service providers having responsibilities to all members and the issues of low probability high impact events when you’re as big as Facebook. I think this is interesting but probably not a valid argument as if the problem was with an off-line community where there was a high probability but it involved “low impact” events is the situation any better? John was also disappointed with Christopher Graham’s talk “banging on about parental responsibility, not my problem its parents problem” and made an interesting point on how “filtering products may be crap but that doesn’t mean give up on improving them” which I think needs to be reworded to be effective: “we need to replace the closed proprietory filtering products that are going nowhere fast with openly accessible alternatives that we can all help to improve”.
Next with a question to FaceBook’s Luc Delany was a school teacher: “We know kids can get around the age controls and we can’t stop this but can you do more for the under 12s?” He then explained with an example of how the “Click CEOP” functionality requires the installation of an extra module whereas on something like MSM it’s already integrated.
Luc replied that Facebook is “now friends now with CEOP” but that they have this age cut off because of the law in the US that prevents them recieving any data for under 13’s. Whilst they know that under 13’s are using the site because it’s a “simple matter to just add 10 years” and they know “it’s a problem” when they investigate the reports they often get from friends/family of the child they often uncover that there is “implied consent” and that many “parents are complicit”.
Luc also explained why he felt legally Facebook “can’t cater for” the under 13 age group: “imagine if we did we’d be crucified for trying to monetise children, are we now opening kids to the type of adults CEOP have to deal with, its a minefield”
ChildLines Sue Minto then explained that it’s an issue of “children aspiring up… …we have had that problem since we’ve had kids wanting to go to the cinema” which I personally think is a not appreciating the real threat eg. cinema content restrictions are an attempt to protect minors from what is being shown on the screen NOT the adult nature of the viewing audience.
With advice for parents Sue explained: “I read my daughters site but don’t tell her, I am stalking her but i’m careful about how i’m doing it” before explaining the importance of annonymity, self service and peer support.
Next question to the panel was from Rachel O’Connell, former Chief Security Officer at Bebo, who raised the healthcare perspective that I thought was sadly missing from all of the talks: “How do we ensure government and in particular the department of health can make psychological therapies for vulnerable children available online?”
Jeremy Todd, CEO of Family Lives, replied to this with an attitude that really disappointed me and typifies what I see hampering the ability of these charities to be effective: “As a charity we would love corporate sponsors to work with us to promote the need for government to actually fund what are very significant areas. As an organisation ourselves the top reason people call us is around issues of mental health either with the parents or a member of the family, we know the issues of bullying and I’d encourage you to work with us in the charity sector to lobby hard”
Other than this one question raised by Rachel it seemed to me as though mental health issues were being intentionally ignored. Yet there are immense opportunities online to target and open dialogue with victims, bullys and predatory adults. Not only can it be very effective but it’s the only real chance of limiting the issues of abuse because as we all know its very often the abused that go on to abuse and abusers who continue to abuse. As such strategies for bringing these individuals into the care process as early and effectively as possible should be one of the highest priorities for this industry.
Secure confidential interactive patient interviewing questionnaires could have a massive impact here but as is so often the case charities are thinking short term strategies and ignoring the opportunity to collaborate because they are so fixated on the opportunity to land another “corporate partner” who can spend some money with them.
In my opinion charities like this should begin to realise that there are more reasons for them to pay a company like O2 or the DOH than to be paid. O2 has incredible access to real time information on its subscribers and if you’ve got an appreciation of the mobile opportunity you would be grabbing this and not the money. The DOH is the provider of the help users of your information services urgently need, your effective communication with them is paramount. See in my recommendations list at the bottom to get an idea of these opportunities.
Next up was the second panel of the day moderated by O2’s Mike Short and featuring (Left to Right) John Carr, Government adviser on Child Safety, Prof Ian Walden, Queen Mary University of London, Helen King, Head of Education, CEOP and Torvill Doro, McAfee.
John Carr started up by explaining how he “can’t imagine them (children) being safe if their privacy isn’t part of the equation” which I think just underestimates what can be done on the internet eg. a 10 year old can easily post a comment anywhere expressing an opinion and they may use a name that identifies them. He then suggested the “law is a complete mess” and that this was highlighted by the fact that “no company out there had found a way of monitoring effectiveness of a child in an online environment”.
I found this interesting because I think it’s an outdated approach to trying to solve things. We have to stop thinking that there is a company out there that can/wants to solve all of society’s seemingly intractable problems. in my opinion the open source movement and collaborative tools like Wikipedia show how even big challenges can be met by society and that’s what we should apply to these problems after all they affect everyone. Want to make a difference? Start a wikipedia page to create a questionnaire that would help you assess a childs effectiveness in an online environment. ask everyone you know who has experience in this area to get involved. Make it your passion. if it gets any good I’d bet there’s a brilliant business to be made out of it. what school wouldn’t want to include this information on annual reports?
Ian Walden was up next and he gave some examples of the negative effects of social networking that I was surprised he felt this audience needed to be educated about:
> The recent press attention given to the adults who survived the school massacre in Dunblane which started as a result of some facebook images depicted them socialising.
> The case of Sarah baskerville a department of transport employee who was sacked as a result of the content of her 700 follower twitter stream
> The case of a police officer dismissed as although he had implemented privacy settings the public interest in his work/comments contravened their guidelines
Ian then summed up with a couple of proposals 1) a right to be forgotten and withdraw our data 2) a right to data portability.
What surprised me was that after explaining the rather obvious issues relating to social networking he’d left no time to even start explaining or suggesting ways for these proposals to be achieved.
Helen King, Head of Education at CEOP, had replaced her CEO on the panel and explained that “teenagers enjoy taking risks” and noting the “real increase” that they’ve “seen in sTexting by children”. The challenge to Helen is that it is young people themselves that are putting themselves at risk because they don’t understand privacy, privacy settings, location based controls until something goes wrong. Helen summed up that there was a need to “investigate what technology can do although there is no silver bullet but there is certainly more we can do to remind users of the risks and consequences”.
Next up was Torville Doro from McAfee, Trevor introduced McAfee as the well known “provider of the tools that are keeping information private” and then went on to talk of the problem being societies “expectation of privacy but then they dont behave in the same way”. He gave a good example of how widespread this issue was when he asked some security professional colleagues if he could use the information in their public Linkedin profiles in a presentation he was making. They all said no, despite the fact that this information he wanted was freely available to anyone via a google search.
Torville then suggested “parents don’t have an idea about the issues or what it means” and that’s before you start looking at location based services and the ability to correlate this with other information being shared out there. He then admitted that he’d given up on educating his parents which I was surprised about.
Personally I find just showing someone the “Please Rob Me” twitter hack provides a great educational moment that helps get the message across to even complete newbies:
John Carr then crunched some numbers to highlight the scale of the problem: “25% of all 8-12 year old children in the UK are on Facebook even though the minimum age is 13 and OFCOM figures state that nearly half of these children have registered themselves as being 18 or over, so if they’ve got Facebook Places application working on their profile they could be broadcasting their physical whereabouts right now to anyone anywhere in the world”.
He then did something very interesting to me as an observer when he justified his reasons for being interested: “Some people say I’m just being a big wet hen flapping around worrying about stuff that hasn’t happened yet, or that this is how you earn your living you have to make a fuss about things like this to justify your existence. All of the above could be true but it doesn’t remove the fact that the evidence of the risk is there and it’s as plain as the nose on your face, and sadly what I think is … there is a lot of things just waiting to happen in the location based awareness space”.
Isn’t it amazing that without any prompting this individual felt the need to say such a thing? I can only think he’s either getting a lot of unfair criticism OR maybe the people he’s talking to have no genuine concern for these critical issues. The sad thing is from my understanding of the way this technology is already being used I think it’s far more likely that the location based service feature has already been used for a lot of criminal activity against young people it’s just no one has been able to see the link yet eg. the police are probably just concluding that the weirdo just happened to be there at that exact same time/place as their victim when actually there was a LBS technology at play and no one was looked for/found it.
Next up was a question from Sarah Newton, a Youth Consultant, who asked John if he could see any justification of the use of spyware to log/record what kids are doing. Once again here John revealed what I think is a major double standard by advocates for bans on LBS services. After explaining that spying undermines trust in the family and should only be used in very limited situations John reasoned that a particular “parent in Brighton/Rottingdean did the right thing when he suspected a 35 year old pedophile of trying to groom his 15 year old daughter” by spying on her communications.
I think this is the real problem. I can imagine that every parent involved in such a situation with suspicions probably thinks “they are that man in Brighton” and here’s where prescriptive legislation (that John previously advocated) can incriminate the innocent eg. if LBS was classified as an adult only service any parent who installed it surreptitiously onto the phone used by a child could be charged as a result of their attempt (out of genuine concern) with a breach of legislation. Unfortunately laws need to be able to face a lot more scrutiny than this to be of any value.
Lisa Bartlett from Brook Advisory was next with the microphone and used it to talk about how she “cried internally” when hearing about the 7,000 hits that ChildLine had received from it’s Facebook advertising campaign because “as a young persons sexual health charity they can’t actually advertise to their target audience on Facebook presently” (they tried previously).
Taking the opportunity Lisa then asked Torvil from McAfee directly about the filtering process that had been “until recently” been blocking access to their service on the O2 network: “who is making the essentially censorship decision about the websites that actually get filtered out? because obviously for us as a young peoples sexual health charity, we need to know that the young people that we want to speak can access our online services”.
Torvil’s reply was protracted and confusing. I think he didn’t understand what he had been asked as he gave a reply stating that there were 38 different classes of product etc etc “but at the end of the day it’s up to the configurator”. By this he meant the individual who sets up the software eg. the father who sets the PC to be used by this 5 year old daughter or 16 year old son.
He then justified their approach by saying that there is a need for more classification but that “misclassifications and errors will always occur”. I think he was trying to explain the PC McAfee product and Lisa had been talking about the mobile operator content filter that blocks mobile phone browsers reaching a certain site. The external twitter stream picked this up and within minutes there was (this was also a great lesson in why you need young people properly represented at an event like this) a picture posted of the screen shot a young person gets when they hit the inappropriate content filter wall for the Brook Advisory service with a 3 UK mobile that hadn’t been “age verified”, I think the irony here doesn’t need explaining:
Which for me was a very obvious reminder of the problem here being in implementation. There may be a massive opportunity for the development of an open collaborative solution to this problem but all too often it comes down to the need to find people who are genuinely interested, committed and passionate enough to actually implement it.
CEOP’s Helen then cautioned that “parents are this agonising group that we agonise over” in relation to filtering tech and explained how they felt they “cannot rely on parents to do this” because “parent participation is hard to engage” especially when the “footballs on” or something.
Louise Orpin of GoGetInfo was next invited by Mike Short to explain her work as an O2 partner leveraging the “small screen of mobile and not the big screen of laptop”.
It was surprising to me that Louise had not been booked as a main speaker as she was the only one who really talked of the mobile opportunity to make a difference. It’s particularly interesting to me as the GoGetInfo website actually focuses on a wide variety of very sensitive medical issues eg. “sexual health, abuse, how to use a condom, pregnancy advice, emergency contraception, self-harm, ” etc.
Louise explained how the company has been developing educational content and services for basic mobiles for more than 2 years for kids aged 12 and updates. The service is rather basic (they’ve so far only launched the service for 10 keywords) but is available 24 hours a day on regular handsets as well as smartphones. Rather confusingly Louise referred to the service being “evidenced based” because at the beginning they ask customers to reveal their “age and gender” so “if it’s a localized service local authorities can buy into it and we can tell them which topics are popular by age and by gender so it’s all evaluated”. Will definitely have to find out more on this.
With time pressing on Mike Short then wrapped up nicely with a quick closing quiz of the panel: “Christmas is coming what’s your wish list of something that could help make a difference to either child safety or privacy in the next year?”
Torvil, McAfee: “a fast sportscar or a way of talking to parents about privacy issues”
I don’t know what it is about technology firms but you always get their reps doing this type of thing. I wouldn’t be totally surprised to learn that this guy had just walked into the wrong room as his name wasn’t on the program either.
Helen King, CEOP: “regulate against location based services and put safegaurds in place to protect children now”
Ian Walden: “i wish everyone loved lawyers more… …and the need to think of child protection, security, confidentiality, integrity in the design process of new services rather than as an add on, or as a last resort or as a reengineering of these services”
I really think this misses an appreciation of the process of innovation. This will never happen when you have charities that are supposed to be protecting kids paying for adverts on social networking sites that are designed for adults. There is no way you’re going to get the innovators who create new services such as Bebo, Facebook, CyWorld to even think about these issues at the design stage if the people who will (hopefully) help them get a return on investment (eg. the advertisers, mobile operators, device makers) aren’t showing any signs of supporting/investing in services that have taken initiatives in this direction.
There is no incentive currently in place: If mobile operators continue to promote, put on deck and by default enable the mobiles of children to engage with a wide variety of adult services (eg. via premium SMS numbers) there will never be entrepreneurs focused on spending their energies trying to design these issues out. Money still makes the world go round.
John Carr: “if you state publicly that there is a minimum age for your online service then you should have a means of enforcing it, demonstrating its meaningful, otherwise don’t say it”
For me this really rocked as I think he’s right on here and the size of problem is made clear when you realise Facebook knows that of the children aged 8-12 years 25% in the UK and >35% in USA are on it’s network being served adult adverts.
The event closed with Mike Short being joined by Glen Maddoff, Director of Opportunities, O2 to wrap up and call for more open and transparent collective pressure to keep the dialogue going.
You’ve read my contribution, so please share what you think… here are the recommendations that I would make for going forward:
1. ChildLine should employ a 23 year old CEO. Their “world wide wait” focused social networking strategy is out of touch and the growth in adoption of mobile phones by children is going to multiply the risks. If they can understand the mobile opportunity they’ll realise it’s also the best chance they’ve got to achieve their goals of protecting and helping children. They need to move quick, the time to think and act mobile first is should be obvious as this clearly is not a problem that’s going to go away…
2. O2 should pay the key youth icons that their brands are associated with (eg. O2 sponsored English/Irish rugby players, Musicians associated with their various O2 Wireless Festivals, Party in the Parks etc) and have then tell kids in a cool way the key issues (scripted by a professional psychologist) about going online and staying safe. Something like the following video but boiled down nice and short:
They should then preload it onto all their video mobiles and leverage their efforts with the worlds biggest classroom to get it out there in front of kids.
3. The charities attending this event should team up and commit some effort to creating an open source interactive questionnaire that provides personalised advice for parents and children. Each member of the family could sit down and complete it and it could produce for them a report that would help parents evaluate where knowledge/understanding gaps exist and provide them with
further useful relevent information and advice and guidelines on an individual basis for each member of the family.
It’s important to note that this service would have to include participation of medical experts as most children who have/are being groomed online don’t report it as they either don’t know they’ve been groomed or find it hard to talk about it .
This interactive Q&A (if designed properly) could also be used to detect this with some strategically placed simple trigger questions eg. “Q. have you ever met anyone new online? A. Yes No Maybe” “Q. Where you ever asked a question that made you feel uncomfortable? A. Yes No Maybe”
It should also build a tie up with a remote care counselling/medical advice service because it’s not going to be safe to manage the parents affected by issues brought up in this way with just a website.
4. Just becasue some web content filters aren’t effective let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water instead let’s think of working towards collaborating to create an open source solution. Efforts like O2’s support for the worlds biggest classroom (and it’s recognition of teaching excellence) would help generate the key support community for this.
5. If this event happens again it should be about the best of breed solutions and how they can help tackle/manage the problems. Some of these may be disruptive to the status quo (eg. carrier/charity relationships with the likes of Facebook) so maybe the selection process should be managed by someone who is completely independent and respected.
6. Big brands should be careful about supporting social network communities that don’t have sufficient privacy safegaurds – even if it means less eyeballs.
7. Operators and Charities should be partners in efforts to deal with the issues children face online. If a root problem here is kids taking sexually explicit pictures why not load every camera phone with rich video content to help it’s user understand this? Use the operators brands, use the charities insights and ability to get support.
8. Let’s stop thinking about the worse and think more about the majority. Most kids won’t be abused. Most kids will have their careers and personal lives affected by the personal information they are sharing and others are sharing about them.
9. Let’s encourage all operators to only support browsers that offer “private” or “incognito” browsing functionality. This way kids don’t have to even think about the cover my track issues that Childline talk about.
10. Let’s talk about age authentication. Until that happens to my mind a charity that’s supposed to have its interests vested in children should not be paying for adverts or creating content (to add value) to an adult social networking site that permits access to children.
If you want a pre-Internet analogy for this I think it would be like your old primary school paying the dodgy newsagent up the road to put a no smoking poster in his window because the school knows that this is where all the children are buying their ciggerettes. Because you just “can’t do anything about it as it’s a police matter” doesn’t mean you’re not responsibility for our own actions. After all taking responsibility is key if we’re going to build confidence in the online world and everyone needs to try to work to the same high standards.