On Safer Internet Day, UNICEF calls for urgent action to protect children
DUBLIN / NEW YORK, 6 February 2018 – 80% of Irish teenagers responding to a UNICEF survey this week say they hold themselves primarily responsible for their safety online, ahead of parents and digital firms.
Approximately 400 Irish teens, aged between 13 and 18, participated in an anonymous survey* carried out on the eve of Safer Internet Day. Three in four young participants told the child rights organisation they take responsibility for their own safety online. However, 8% hold private firms responsible for online safety, 6% hold the Government responsible, 4% say their parents bear primary responsibility, and just 1% feel their schools have responsibility.
But in a finding that will alarm parents, 46% (of 355 respondents on this question) polled admitted lying about their age online in order to get around built-in safety measures on various platforms. A further 6% admitted maintaining fake profiles, while 3% own a secret phone.
The vast majority of young people polled, 44% (of 414 respondents), said their biggest concern about online safety is that private companies have access to their personal data. Respondents said this worried them because their personal details, the pictures they post and their search histories can all be viewed by private firms, while their data can be used to sell advertising.
Worries about businesses having access to their profiles outstripped the young participants’ concerns about the dangers posed by strangers online (10%), bullying (9%), the pressure a young person might feel from others on social media (5%), viewing sexual content (4%) or viewing violent content (3%). 25% did not report any worries about their online activity.
Around the world, UNICEF says more than 175,000 children go online for the first time every day – that is a new child every half second. Digital access exposes these children to a wealth of benefits and opportunities, but also to a host of risks and harms, including access to harmful content, sexual exploitation and abuse, cyberbullying, and misuse of their private information, the children’s agency warned.
Worldwide 1 in 3 internet users is a child, and yet – as outlined in UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world – too little is done to protect them from the perils of the digital world, to safeguard the trail of information their online activities create, and to increase their access to safe and quality online content.
Executive Director of UNICEF Ireland, Peter Power, says: “Parents, including myself, have been utterly shocked by recent developments here showing just how vulnerable our young people are online. UNICEF considers this to be a critical issue of child safety. We are calling on Governments and businesses to come together and prioritise the safety of children online, as we do in all areas of their lives.”
“Every day, thousands of children are going online for the first time, which opens them up to a flood of dangers we are just coming to appreciate, let alone address,” said Laurence Chandy, UNICEF Director of Data, Research and Policy. “While governments and the private sector have made some progress in formulating policies and approaches to eliminate the most egregious online risks, more effort must be made to fully understand and protect children’s online lives.”
The report also makes clear that the obligation to protect children in the digital world lands on everyone, including governments, families, schools and other institutions. It notes, however, that the private sector – especially in the technology and telecommunication industries – has a significant and unique responsibility to shape the impact of digital technology on children – a responsibility that has not been taken seriously enough. The power and influence of the private sector should be leveraged to advance industry-wide ethical standards on data and privacy, as well as other practices that benefit and protect children online.
UNICEF is calling for renewed urgency and cooperation among governments, civil society, United Nations agencies and other international children’s organisations, and, most significantly, the private sector to put children at the center of digital policy by:
- Coordinating global, regional and national response. We must deepen collaboration between policy makers, law enforcement and the technology industry to embed principles of safety in the design of technology, and to work together to find solutions to keep pace with digital technology that can enable and conceal illegal trafficking and other online child sexual abuse.
- Safeguarding children’s privacy. We need a much greater commitment by the private sector and government to protect and not misuse children’s data and to respect its encryption; the full application of international standards in collecting and using data about children online; and to teach children how to protect themselves from threats to their own privacy.
- Empowering children online through more equitable access and digital literacy. Children must be taught how to keep themselves informed, engaged and safe online, including through greater collaboration between governments and technologists to develop ICT platforms and curricula from primary school through high school; supporting online libraries and expanding the capacity of public libraries to teach digital skills; investing in teacher training in digital technology; teaching children how to recognize and protect themselves from online dangers and misinformation; and making digital citizenship a core component of digital literacy instruction.
- Leveraging the unique role of the private sector. There is an urgent need for the establishment and enforcement of industry wide ethical standards on data and privacy that protect and benefit children online, including ethical product development and marketing that mitigates risks to children.
- Investing in better evidence about access, opportunities and risks for children online. We need better evidence about children’s access and activities online, so we can leverage this evidence for regulatory frameworks and policies that recognize the distinct needs and rights of children; strengthen coordination and knowledge sharing at the global level to address the challenges of a digital world; deepen collaboration with children’s organizations; and engage more systematically with policymakers and lawmakers.
UNICEF Ireland’s Power concludes: “UNICEF believes young people themselves have an important role to play in this discussion, indeed they have a right to be heard. We ask that all stakeholders work together with children to come up with mechanisms to protect them online.”
*U-Report is an anonymised youth polling tool run by UNICEF. 1,378 received this poll via text and social media, after signing up for the service. Sample size of 430 as of 9pm 5 Feb, 5% margin of error, 95% confidence level. The poll continues ‘thru Feb 6. Full results at ureport.ie
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