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EuroDig on the issue of child privacy online

Since a topic of great interest to me is child protection and privacy online, I wanted to give an overview of what I’ve heard on the topic throughout the EuroDig. Most of the
discussion was present in the workshop titled “Children and social media –
opportunities and risks, rules and responsibilities”. Andreas Johanson (Swedish
Regulator) started off with a study in which parents think they know what their
children are doing online, but - in
reality – they do not know. This is an alarming fact, which points to the need
of parents to be educated about internet and technology. Various participants
mentioned that many parents are scared to use it because they do not understand
how it works. However, no clear solution was proposed as to how this can begin
to be tackled.

An interesting point was made by Graham Ritchie (CEOP UK), who stated that online child protocol strategies are much more efficient when delivered in partnership
between agencies and governments. He explained the current initiatives of CEOP,
which links industry and government in order to tackle the problem of child
protection and also emphasized that governments needs to put pressure on the
industry to detect abuse on social networking sites, which is becoming an
increasingly worrying phenomenon. To this extent, an initiative of CEOP is the
design of a virtual button for children that they can press while online if
they feel bullied or harassed in any way. By pressing this button they are
instantly connected to a website that offers advice on how he/she should
protect him/herself and not give in to bullying or harassment. Ritchie pointed
out that this is an empowering experience for the children, because they
themselves can do something instantly. Although Ritchie seemed to be delighted
with this solution, I believe that although good in theory, it doesn’t do much
in practice, since written advice on a website cannot be a substitute for
talking to an adult and simply pressing a virtual button for help is far from
being an empowering act.

The Moldova hub presented a very interesting situation: many parents in Moldova work abroad for long periods of time, which leaves the children either
unattended or in the care of older relatives, who do not have any computer
literacy. Most parents are afraid that their children are not getting enough
protection against possible harmful sources on the Internet. Oddly enough, even
though everyone in the room agreed that this is a very challenging and
interesting issue, no one seemed to be able to offer any concrete advice. There
was a general mentioning of the fact that what needs to be changed is the
curriculum at an early age to talk about privacy. But surely this is not enough
in the case of children who are left alone, unsupervised in front of the

What I did find particularly enjoyable was a comment made about the websites that can only grant access if the individual confirms that he/she is 18+ are useless, since
it is almost impossible to check if a young person is lying about their age. A
participant called it “hypocrisy”, since it is an easy way out of protecting
children against harmful content. I entirely agree with this point of view,
because I see it as a way for companies who create potentially harmful websites
for children to escape with an untouched image and no responsibilities in
shielding children from this content.

All in all, I would say that even though the debate surrounding child protection and privacy online at the EuroDig did raise some very interesting points, what seemed to be missing
was a set of concrete policy or practice ideas that can be implemented in order
to achieve tangible results.

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