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Online giants to lead reform on child cyber security

23.01.12 @ 19:15

  1. By Benjamin Fox
  2. Benjamin email

BRUSSELS - A group of 25 of the world’s leading information and communication technology (ICT) firms have joined forces in a bid to improve cyber security for children in the EU.

  • (Photo: European Commission)

The ICT Coalition for a Safer Internet for Children and Young People Thursday (19 January) launched its paper which it claims will focus on developing products and services to enhance the safety of children and young people online.

The coalition, which includes social media giants Facebook and Google, as well as telecoms firms Nokia, Vodafone, Telefonica and Orange, marks the latest in a string of pledges by the ICT industry to improve cyber security, following the launch of the European Commission-backed "A better place for kids” campaign in December.

The move by industry follows rising concerns among parents and policy-makers about a lack of effective regulation of the web. In particular, there are concerns about the capacity for on-line bullying and grooming on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. In 2010, the Internet Watch Foundation identified over 16,700 instances of child sexual abuse content on different web pages worldwide.

Peter Davies, chief executive of the UK-based Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre has said that the "most significant contribution (to tackling online abuse) would come from large corporations." He also revealed that Facebook and Bebo have both been working with CEOP to introduce so-called panic buttons.

In their paper, the ICT coalition promised to report back on the development of a “report trigger” or panic buttons by mid-2012, which it hopes will be an easy to use procedure for reporting, harmful content recognisable by parents and children and usable across the Internet. They have also promised to develop programmes and single-click buttons or icons to increase parental control.

In their statement, the coalition stated that they wanted to “ensure that children and young people obtain the greatest benefit from new technologies, while avoiding the challenges and risks which are of concern to people worldwide.”

Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes praised the initiatives saying they were a clear sign that the ICT industry is “committed to ensuring real and consistent solutions to protect and empower children online.”

However, the latest pledge by the ICT industry is still unlikely to persuade Kroes to drop commission plans to beef-up cyber security. In her speech to the Safer Internet Forum last October, commissioner Kroes told delegates that she would publish plans for a European strategy on internet security in 2012 including more resources for a European Safer Internet Programme.

Although she has so far not committed herself to making legislative proposals, her report is also expected to look at co-ordinated reporting mechanisms for abusive content, bullying and grooming, as well as parental control mechanisms in internet-connected devices.