This year was an exciting one for online safety at Microsoft. We continued our long-standing commitment to individuals and families by offering tools and guidance they need online – everything from new products such as Windows 8 with enhanced parental controls; to our continued collaboration with groups like the Family Online Safety Institute and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). We acknowledged support of The United States’ and the European Union’s Joint Declaration to help reduce the risks and maximize the Internet’s benefits for young people. The increased focus on global online safety led to my appointment as Microsoft’s first Chief Safety Officer, a role that I will formally assume in March 2013.
So, it’s fitting that to cap 2012, we are releasing our first “Year in Online Safety” report, a 10-page paper that describes our initiatives, projects, and programs that help create safer, more trusted computing experiences. We’ve also highlighted what we think are some of the most important trends in online safety, and where they may be headed next year. These include:
- “Bring your own device” — home edition. The workplace phenomenon known as Bring your own device has come home: 25 percent of U.S. households now have at least one tablet, and 66 percent of young Americans now own smartphones. These devices are evolving digital lifestyles, and are leaving families hungry for strategies to help manage safety and privacy.
- Taking a stand against online meanness: Are we reaching a cultural tipping point? A Microsoft survey found that 54 percent of children in 25 countries are concerned that they’ll be bullied online. In 2012, young people took action by starting a number of youth-led anti-bullying movements, including “Nice It Forward,” and participating in initiatives such as the Born This Way Foundation.
Maybe the Internet isn’t really so bad for kids. Fueled by a wave of new research, the positive side of the Internet for youth is increasingly being recognized. Indeed, data show the number of incidents of both sexting and sexual contact as the result of online encounters among juveniles is both smaller than thought and declining.
- COPPA creates challenges and uncertainty for online companies. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) is a U.S. law that requires website operators to obtain verifiable consent from a parent or guardian before knowingly collecting information from a person under 13. While some in the online safety community praise COPPA, others say it has the effect of excluding those under 13 from online content, and research has shown that it leads millions to lie about their age.
- App stores are helping families make safety choices. As mobile app platform developers look for ways to provide a more consistent and reliable experience for customers, they have turned to managing the content available in their app stores — a significant change from the way content on traditional operating systems has been managed.
Is “Internet addiction” real? Some countries are sure of it. 2012 saw an increase in developed countries acknowledging the problem of Internet addiction. In the U.S., the American Psychiatric Association does not consider “Internet addiction” a disorder, but this year decided to add “Internet Use Disorder” to the appendix of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, deeming it a condition “recommended for further study.”
- Governments worldwide increasingly block adult content for youth and adults. As countries in Asia and Africa increase their online participation, blocking of sexual content in these regions has become more widespread.
Looking across these trends, I see reason for optimism. There is still, however, much to be done. Microsoft will continue to collaborate with advocates, others in industry, governments, and law enforcement agencies worldwide to help develop solutions and promote effective public policies that help protect people online.