#MSFTCOSO POV: Europe leads the way in protecting kids online

The following post is from Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer at Microsoft. Once a month on The Fire Hose, Beauchere gives her point of view on topics related to the global consumer online safety, privacy and security landscape. Follow the conversation on Twitter at #MSFTCOSO.

Looking back on 2013, Europe has again led the way in identifying and implementing new means to help protect kids online.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a landmark address on July 22 in a bid to rid the Web of child sexual abuse material. He then hosted a summit to review industry progress, where Microsoft and Google announced new processes and technology improvements designed to prevent the spread of such content. Meanwhile, the European Commission’s two-year-young CEO Coalition on Child Online Safety continued to push toward its goal of a “safer and better” Internet for kids. And several individual countries including Austria, Norway and Slovenia added to their ongoing efforts to help enhance the digital lives of children and all individuals via public awareness-raising campaigns and other efforts.

Last month in Brussels, Forum Europe held its second annual European Child Safety Online Conference to review progress in Europe and around the globe. While significant strides have been made, there is still much to be done in terms of awareness-raising, information-sharing and education – all toward the goal of encouraging people to adopt safer habits and practices when they go online. 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 Co., 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 and led by various stakeholders – parents, educators, government and industry – to help raise awareness and educate the global public about various online risks, 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 our job to help stop – as quickly as possible – any misuse of our services, while balancing all digital freedoms.

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.

We must be mindful that we’re living in very dynamic, fluid and exciting times. 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.

Protecting children online has been a priority for Microsoft for nearly two decades. Ever since we launched our first Web service in the mid-1990s, we knew we would have to pay special attention to help keep kids safe as they explored the wonders of the Web. Today, nearly a generation later, 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.

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” by following the #MSFTCOSO hashtag.