Today, social networking, mobile computing, and the realization that 21st century skills are a key ingredient to children’s success, make protecting kids online that much more significant, nearly a generation later. Last month in Brussels, Forum Europe held its second annual European Child Safety Online Conference to examine European and global cooperation toward a safer and better Internet for kids. I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion entitled, “Equipping children and parents with the digital literacy skills to help keep them safe.” Moderated by U.K. child safety expert John Carr, other panelists included: Manuela Martra, Project Officer for Inclusion, Skills and Youth with the European Commission’s DG CONNECT; Lucy Woodward, Interactive Live Services Director with The Walt Disney Company, Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Tommaso Bertolotti, a PhD candidate in philosophy from Italy’s University of Pavia.
We discussed initiatives currently underway by various stakeholders – parents, educators, government, and industry – to help raise awareness and educate the global public about various online risks and, particularly those that impact children. While each of us shared our varying approaches, tools, and resources, together we agreed that everyone has a responsibility to do their part.
At Microsoft, we see our strategic role as largely three-fold. As a technology devices and services provider, we must strive for simple, easy-to-use products. We understand these need to be built with safety, security, and privacy in mind at the earliest stages of the development process. We also see ourselves as partly responsible for educating the public about existing and emerging risks, and for sharing ways in which individuals and families can best protect themselves online. This also means it’s also our job to stop – as quickly as possible – any misuse of our services, but we can’t be held accountable for any and all individuals’ bad behavior.
For policymakers, we see their role as one of an all-up leader. Yet, there is much policymakers can do without “leading” with regulation. Indeed, this is an area where industry self-regulation is effective and appreciated. Government, for instance, is best placed to commission studies and fill research gaps; convene forums and dialogues – both formal and informal – to gather knowledge and share perspectives, and partner with industry and civil society to develop public awareness-raising and educational campaigns. Misinformation circulates regularly, so it’s critical that any action taken be based on an accurate portrayal of the risks. In terms of research, the European Commission-supported EU Kids Online Project continues to be cited as the “gold standard,” and is a hugely impressive body of work. It’s no wonder the study is replicated in geographies around the world, as leaders seek to learn what their younger citizens are doing online.
Parents, educators, school officials, and youth, of course, also have important roles to play. We must be mindful that we’re living in very dynamic, fluid, and exciting times and, while we all aim to make the right decisions all the time; at the end of the day, we’re making the right decisions for right now. Those may change tomorrow, or the next day, or as technology evolves. That’s why informed, yet flexible, approaches will likely prove most effective.
Microsoft commends the European Union for its tireless focus on this important issue, and we look forward to continued collaboration. For more information about Microsoft’s work in Internet safety and protecting children online: visit our Safety & Security Center; “like” us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter, and look for my “point of view” following the #MSFTCOSO hashtag.