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  • Published 20.07.23

    Crafting of the Code of Conduct on age-appropriate design kicks off

    news article EC

    At July 13, 2023 the Special Group on Code of Conduct for age-appropriate design convenes for its first meeting, an important step under the Better Internet for Kids Strategy (BIK+)

    One of the key actions for the Commission under the BIK+ strategy focuses on helping implement legislation, through drafting a comprehensive code of conduct on age-appropriate design, for industry to sign up to. The Code of Conduct for age-appropriate design, envisioned as a collaborative effort, is set to play a pivotal role in shaping how industry treats its youngest.

    Comprising representatives from industry (including via trade associations), academia and civil society, the special group is made of 21 members selected following a call for expression of interest. On behalf of the Commission, DG Connect will chair the Special Group and ensure secretarial services via the Better Internet for Kids+ Platform contractor. The Group's collaborative efforts are expected to create a balanced and comprehensive framework that encourages responsible behaviour from all parties involved with children in the digital sphere.

    With the ever-expanding reach and influence of online services, ensuring the well-being and safety of young users is a priority, and the timing for crafting the Code is very opportune. The Digital Services Act (DSA) implementation is starting, after the Regulation entered into force in November 2022. The first 17 very large online platforms (“VLOPs”) and 2 very large search engines (“VLOSEs”) were designated at the end of April. Following their designation, the companies have four months to comply with the full set of new obligations under the DSA. The DSA makes significant changes to the digital landscape, and among many new obligations, all online platforms accessible to minors must ensure a high level of privacy, safety and security for minors on their service. It also introduces stricter penalties for non-compliance and empowers authorities - at European and at national level - to take action against systemic risks posed by digital services.

    The Code's primary focus will be to build upon and support the implementation of the DSA, specifically emphasizing provisions dedicated to safeguarding minors. It will also actively contribute to the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) and be in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

    Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and robust monitoring will be inherent elements of the Code. However, it is important to note that while the Code builds on the provisions of the DSA, it will not affect enforcement of the DSA’s obligations.

  • Published 19.07.23

    International debate on the European Commission’s proposal to regulate CSA

    Marlene Fasolt, SDC

    An international group of scientists is speaking up against the European Commission’s draft regulation on preventing and combating child sexual abuse on the Internet. Their joint statement, which is addressed to the Members of the European Parliament and the Member States, was published on the pages of various portals.

    In a publication, the head of the IT department of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Lloyd Richardson, refutes central arguments of the researchers as misleading and inaccurate. The article can be found here.

    An open letter is circulating in strong support of the EU’s draft regulation on preventing and combating child sexual violence online. The letter can be publicly supported by signing it.

  • Published 26.06.23

    Studies reveal extent of sexual violence against children

    Torsten Krause, SDC

    In June 2023, the Finnish organization Suojellan Lapsia, Protect Children ry. published a special evaluation of the study CSAM Users in the Dark Web: Protecting Children Through Prevention, in order to raise awareness about results and findings regarding German-speaking users of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the Darknet.

    The main study comprised around 24,000 people who searched for child sexual abuse material on the darknet and were there redirected to the survey. By means of the questionnaire, they were asked about their feelings and behaviour, their motives, possible obstacles to searching for child sexual abuse material, and about direct contact to children. It was found that 66 percent of the respondents were younger than 18 when they first came across child sexual abuse material online, 40 percent are consuming child sexual abuse material in livestreaming, and a majority of the perpetrators is prefering CSAM depicting girls. As a result of consuming such violent acts or images, 42 percent of the perpetrators actively sought direct contact to children via online platforms.

    In the special evaluation of German-speaking perpetrators, it became clear that almost one in two (49 percent) of them came across child sexual abuse material online for the first time randomly, around one in five while looking for other material of sexual violence (19 percent) and 15 percent via social contacts. A total of 70 percent of the perpetrators came across such depictions unintentionally or by chance. With 41 percent, the largest proportion of respondents was 13 years old or even younger when they first encountered child sexual abuse material in social media, through unsolicited messages sent via messenger, by using search engines or in the context of private communication. Just under a third of the perpetrators (29 percent) were between 14 and 17 years old at the time of their first encounter, while 16 percent came across such depictions for the first time between the ages of 18 and 25.

    With regard to their desire to seek contact to children in the aftermath of viewing CSAM, 54 percent of the persons stated they were familiar with such thoughts. 49 percent of respondents have already translated such thoughts into action. The proportion of German-speaking perpetrators seeking contact to children after consuming child sexual abuse material is thus higher than the overall average (42 percent). The majority of German-speaking respondents (40 percent) prefer CSAM of girls between the ages of 4 and 13. Deviating from the results of the overall study (18 percent) it was shown that 24 percent also prefer depictions of boys between the ages of 4 and 13.

    The findings of the Finnish study correspond with a recent publication by the WeProtect Global Alliance. On June 12, 2023, the organisation released its findings from a global survey of 18- to 20-year-olds who experienced sexual harassment or violence during childhood titled Estimates of childhood exposure to online sexual harassment and their risk factors. According to the survey, a total of 54 percent of participants experienced sexual violence before they turned 18, and with 57 percent, girls were more often affected than boys (48 percent). The survey investigated four different aspects of potential sexual harassment or acts of violence. For example, the survey asked whether respondents had been asked to do something explicitly sexual online when they were minors that they did not want to do or were uncomfortable with (34 percent), whether they had explicit sexual depictions of them shared with others without their consent (29 percent), whether they had received explicit sexual depictions from an adult or someone they did not know (29 percent), or, whether an adult known to them or someone they did not know had asked them to keep part of their sexually explicit online communication confidential (25 percent).

    When assessed regionally, it appears that young people in the surveyed countries of North America (71 percent), Australia and New Zealand (67 percent), and Western Europe (65 percent) are reporting a higher risk of having a sexually distressing online experience than do young people in Central Africa (31 percent), Eastern Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East/North Africa (44 percent each), or Latin America (49 percent).

    Beyond the findings regarding the variants of sexual harassment and acts of violence, the survey gives evidence that children are increasingly younger when they first experience such behaviour While today's 20-year-olds stated they had had their first such experience at the age of 13.4, for today's 18-year-olds this was already the case at the age of 12.7. Two-third of the respondents had experienced sexualized violence directly on their smartphone via a communication service. In addition, minorities are at greater risk of experiencing correspondingly distressing encounters as evidenced by the research. For example, 59 percent of respondents who identify as transgender or non-binary compared to 47 percent of cisgender respondents, 65 percent of LGBQ+ respondents compared to 46 percent of heterosexual respondents, 57 percent of respondents with a disability compared to 48 percent of respondents without disabilities, and 58 percent of respondents who are perceived as a minority due to their origin compared to 49 percent of respondents belonging to the majority of origin report experiencing distress in a sexual context online.

    Overall, the two studies reveal an increase in sexualized violence in the digital environment. It is clear that users of digital services unintentionally come across sexual violence online at a young age and are thus either harmed themselves or have a potential tendency to become perpetrators themselves. Both consequences must be counteracted by prevention and deletion of such content.

    In its General Comment No. 25 on the rights of the child in the digital environment, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the states parties to actively promote the protection of young people in the digital environment. By means of appropriate regulations, resources to be deployed, safety-by-design and privacy-by-design, child sexual abuse online should also be prevented and combated in the services and products children use. The European Commission's proposal for a regulation laying down rules to prevent and combat child sexual abuse, which is currently being discussed by the European Parliament and the Council, should also be looked at in this context.

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