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  • Published 10.04.24

    Is Age Assurance the Silver Bullet?

    Jutta Croll, SDC, SDC

    More than 600 experts from around the world are meeting this week at the Global Age Assurance Standards Summit (GAASS) half of them onsite while the other half are taking part remotely. The meeting’s purpose is to find out and discuss benefits and pitfalls of different tools in place to gain knowledge on the age of Internet users.

    In the course of the week various concepts, approaches, methods and tools to estimate or verify either the identity or the age of a person will be presented in order to better understand the different requirements of online service providers, their users and businesses developing and providing verification service tools. In parallel a Working Group of the International Standards Organisation convenes in order to further develop a standard for Identity Management and Privacy Technologies.

    Standards are perceived as a precondition not only for properly working tools but also for a level playing field market in this area. Also, regulators on national, European and international level have an important role to play when safety in the online world shall be based on true and verified information guaranteed by legislation.

    Further issues to be discussed are the interoperability and attacks on the technical infrastructure, privacy preserving mechanisms of innovative tools and last but not least complementary mechanisms to keep children safe online.

    So far it looks like what works in the tangible world seems not to be so easy in the digital environment. So, watch this space for further information and the Summit Communique to be published next week.

  • Published 09.04.24

    VOICE: Children's and caregivers' perspectives on online safety

    Torsten Krause, SDC

    On April 8, ECPAT International, terre des hommes Netherlands and Eurochild presented the VOICE study in Brussels. Together, they surveyed over 400 children and around 6,000 caregivers in 15 countries in Europe, Asia and South America about their attitudes, opinions and experiences regarding children's safety online. The survey revealed that children benefit from the advantages of online services in the areas of communication, entertainment and education. At the same time, however, they also perceive negative consequences from the use of online services. As examples, the children often mentioned effects on their mental health and well-being as well as concerns about the protection of their data and privacy. They are worried about possible contact with strangers (stranger danger), also in context with potential sexual violence. In principle, however, almost half of the children surveyed (46%) feel safe online, while one in ten children (10%) feel unsafe in the digital environment. In this circumstance, the organizations point out that when assessing this data, it should be taken into account that children have a high tolerance for online risks, which is due to the fact that desensitization and normalization towards them has occurred. However, ignorance and a lack of experience also appear to contribute to these assessments. This contrasts with the self-assessment of many caregivers that they have comprehensive knowledge of existing online risks. However, the researchers found that this does not apply to the risks of sexual violence against children online and that there is also a considerable discrepancy between caregivers' perceptions of the usage and conduct of children online and children's actual experiences.

    Children often associate safety measures with the protection of their data, and similarly with the protection of their privacy. They are aware that there is content and offers on the internet that are not appropriate for their age or development and/or could be harmful to them. They can therefore understand the need for protection measures for children online. In this context, caregivers are of the opinion that these are not adequate to sufficiently protect young users from sexual violence online. The majority of them also estimate that the protection of children in the digital environment cannot be achieved without compromising privacy. While every second caregiver (52%) partially or fully agrees with restricting their right to privacy for measures to protect children online, around 18% of the caregivers surveyed reject this. The participating children, on the other hand, require a balance between these interests and prefer measures that take both their protection and their privacy into account. Over half of the children are open to the use of measures to verify their age, while some express concern that the data required for this could also be used for other purposes. Concerns were also expressed that this could restrict their participation online. In any case, children want safeguards that are incorporated into the design of the service (safety by design). They often consider existing services to be too complicated and not user-friendly.

    The study also comes to the conclusion that children and caregivers often feel responsible for protecting children online themselves. In doing so, they underestimate the options of the providers of online experiences and the role of governments and authorities in supporting to protect young users. They prefer reporting procedures to the providers and are less likely to turn to (their) caregivers. They in turn rely on parental control measures and support to safeguard the online use of (their) children. However, this support raises challenges in the exchange, as children and caregivers share different perspectives and experiences.

    In order to turn digital environments into safe places for children, ECPAT Internation, Eurochild and terre des hommes Netherlands recommend, in light of these study results, that more information and knowledge be provided to children and adults likewise. Gaps in knowledge need to be closed and skills for the safe use of online services need to be developed. Providers, governments, caregivers and children are part of a shared community of responsibility. The views of children and caregivers should be taken into consideration when designing protection and safeguarding measures. It is important to children that these do not violate their privacy and are incorporated directly in the design of the services.

    The full report "Speaking up for change - children's and caregiver's voices for safer experiences" can be accessed here.

  • Published 25.03.24

    Start of a dark field study on child protection

    Yonca Ekinci, SDC

    Scientists from the German Center for Mental Health, the Central Institute of Menatal Health, the Clinic for Children and Adolescents at the University Hospital in Ulm and the Institute of Criminology at Heidelberg University are jointly conducting a representative national dark field study. Their aim is to gain a better understanding of the dimensions of sexual violence against children and youths in Germany. To this end, they want to investigate the frequency, situational context and impact of sexual violence, as there has been little knowledge to date in these areas of child protection.

    A random sample of 92 municipalities in Germany was selected for the survey. In each of these, 100 citizens between the ages of 18 and 59 will receive a questionnaire by post. The study participants can decide whether to complete the questionnaire online or on paper. The data will be evaluated anonymously.

    The study is being conducted in collaboration with the Infratest dimap survey institute and is supported by the WEISSER RING Foundation, the Eckiger Tisch association and the German Child Protection Association.

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