Microsoft Joins European Commission’s CEO Coalition on Child Online Safety

Today, European Union Commissioner Neelie Kroes announced the formation of the ‘CEO Coalition on Child Online Safety.’ Microsoft is pleased to be a founding member of this coalition, which is a collective effort of government and industry to discuss best practices that “make the Internet a better place for children.”

I will serve as Microsoft’s representative on the CEO Coalition, and Microsoft remains committed to advancing ways to make online services and the Internet safer for children. We also believe such joint efforts, involving all major industry players in the digital ecosystem – including hardware manufacturers, technology companies, content creators, telecommunications and online service providers – are necessary to achieve real progress in the area of online safety.

The purpose of the coalition is to bring together industry and government leaders to discuss best practices to help create pragmatic and effective approaches to addressing some of the most complex and nuanced online safety and privacy challenges encountered by young people today. While the outcomes have not yet been determined, there will be a series of working groups established in five key areas, and we look forward to discussing our processes and technologies as part of this effort.

The first area of work will look at the feasibility of implementing a consistent abuse mechanism for easy reporting of issues across online experiences throughout Europe. The second area of focus will concentrate on developing defined criteria for age appropriate privacy settings. To that end, Microsoft was recently recognized by the European Commission for our efforts in designing privacy and safety settings for both Windows Live and Xbox LIVE through our participation in the EU Safer Social Networking Principles.

Another working group will explore developing a more comprehensive content classification scheme for content directed at children. Microsoft has long been involved in ratings and classification schemes such as PEGI and ESRB for games, and more recently has supported efforts to extend these regimes to mobile applications. The coalition will also look at how to promote broader availability and uptake of parental controls. Again, this is an area in which Microsoft has extensive experience, with Windows Live Family Safety and Xbox LIVE Parental Controls as two examples. However, we also understand that all technology tools are most effective if used in tandem with education, awareness and parental involvement in children’s online activities.

Finally, the coalition will focus on effective take down of child abuse content. To that end, Microsoft is working with thought leaders around the world on advancing effective mechanisms to find, remove and report child-exploitive content online, including technologies like PhotoDNA. Microsoft, in partnership with Dartmouth College and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), developed PhotoDNA, an image-matching technology that helps find and remove some of the worst-known child pornography images from the Internet.

Internally, Microsoft has implemented PhotoDNA on Hotmail, SkyDrive and Bing to help stop the spread of these images through these platforms. The company has also made PhotoDNA available for others to use at no charge. As a result, Facebook also uses PhotoDNA globally, and we continue to work with others in industry, government and law enforcement on new ways PhotoDNA technology and other efforts can help combat child sexual exploitation in Europe and worldwide.

Microsoft has observed that governments that bring together multi-stakeholder groups to tackle these issues through a shared responsibility model have yielded the most balanced approaches to online safety, as there is no “one size fits all” solution, and online safety considerations may differ based on a particular service, product or technology.

Indeed, the governments that take a balanced and holistic approach to online safety through cooperative partnerships, sound public policies, robust education and awareness programs, and sensible use of technology tools, have demonstrated the greatest success. This is why Microsoft is pleased to continue working to advance improvements in this area as a company, and to be part of the CEO Coalition process, as more can be done when we partner together to achieve real, sustainable impact in the area of child online safety.

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