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.
International Safer Internet Day (SID) is just two weeks away. This year’s theme, “Let’s create a better Internet together,” leverages the new nomenclature I’m seeing in how various groups approach online safety. In 2013, we began to see a shift in the way child advocates, lawmakers and some in our industry discuss protecting kids online. From public-policy efforts to digital literacy and combatting child sexual abuse material, the narrative began to evolve around a “better” – as opposed to a “safer” – Internet. And, a collection of conversations and activities has now coalesced around how, together, we can create this “better” Web for global youth – as well as a safer one.
In part, the change in vocabulary followed the European Union’s Joint Declaration to help reduce the risks and maximize the Internet’s benefits for young people. Another factor was United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent landmark address to rid the Web of child sexual abuse material. But, another significant development was the realization that children must be at the table. And, if the conversations that I’ve been a part of are any indicator, in 2014 and beyond, we will continue to see more and more children called upon to participate in these discussions. Not to say they haven’t participated in the past; but that was more the exception rather than the rule. After all, we can’t create a better, or safer, Internet for them without their input.
As I’ve said before, absolute monikers like “safe,” “secure,” and “private” should be stricken from our digital lexicon. Again, any Internet service provider, technology company or other online actor that claims to guarantee 100 percent safety, security, privacy or reliability is setting itself up for failure. Instead, we should regard online safety as an exercise in risk management: survey the landscape; educate ourselves about, and evaluate, the risks; determine our individual acceptance levels, and then decide how best to manage those risks.
“Safer” is certainly something we all want to be. To be “safe,” according to Merriam-Webster, means to be “free from harm or risk; secure from threat of danger, harm or loss.” Again, such a state of being is something neither the online world, nor real life, can ever guarantee. “Better” however, is defined as “higher in quality … more attractive, appealing, effective, useful, etc. … more advantageous … improved in accuracy or performance.” Safer is, in fact, one of the attributes we should all want from a “better” Internet for young people and, indeed, all individuals.
In addition, we want a higher quality Internet, particularly when it comes to accuracy and completeness of available content. And, we want that content to be attractive, effective and useful, so as to educate children and inspire life-long learning. We also want improved reliability of connections, and increased availability of access, so as to make this wealth of useful and appealing information consumable by all. And, just like “safe” should not be the end-goal in defining the Internet, neither should “best.” “Better” – and continually improving – is clearly the “better” choice.
So, how do we do this? At Microsoft, we define the very discipline of online safety in terms of risk management. We see our role as helping people maximize their desirable online experiences, while minimizing those stemming from what we call “The Four Cs” – risks from content, contact, conduct and commerce. We do this by providing technology tools, raising public awareness through campaigns and social media, partnering with others on a variety of initiatives and by creating and sharing our own informational and educational resources.
I congratulate the European Union for continuing to evolve its efforts and its nuanced approach to these important issues. While other regions have some catching up to do, I do see progress. To show our continued support for these issues, we are readying for international SID 2014. On Feb. 11, as part of our contributions this year, Microsoft will release its latest Computing Safety Index for 20 countries, as well as the worldwide average. We will also announce a new effort to spread the SID theme and help “create a better Internet together.” So, keep an eye out for how you can join our movement and make a difference “one thing” at a time, and that together, we can build a better Web.
In the meantime, for more information about our work in Internet safety and protecting young people 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.