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Published 18.06.24

Promoting online child protection through regulation and innovation

Torsten Krause, SDC

On the second day of the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) in Vilnius, Lithuania, the participants discussed on-site and remote how users of digital services can be protected from possible attacks or harmful content. Together, they considered which regulations could be necessary and helpful to achieve this goal and which innovations could support this.

In the workshop "Child safety online - update on legal regulatory trends combatting child sexual abuse online", Desara Dushi from the Free University of Brussels and Nigel Hickson, Head of Internet Governance Policy at DSIT UK, presented the European Commission's proposal to combat and prevent child sexual abuse and the UK's Online Safety Act, which has been in force since autumn 2023. This perspective was complemented by Kristina Mikoliuniene from the Lithuanian regulatory authority RRT and Jaap-Henk Hoepman from the University of Nijmegen with practical experience in the implementation of regulations to protect children in the digital environment and scientific findings regarding the capabilities of technologies. Fabiola Bas Palomares from Eurochild enriched the discussion with a children's rights perspective and reported on the latest results of the VOICE study. According to the study, children and young people are confronted with a variety of risks online, including sexual violence and the unwanted usage and sharing of their data by service providers or other users of the services.

The discussion revealed that, in addition to the consensus on the need to protect young people online, there are different views on how this goal can be achieved. Particularly with regard to the use of technologies, there are sometimes concerns about the extent to which these can be harmonised with essential rights, such as the protection of privacy. For example, age verification methods were seen by some participants as a groundbreaking tool for realising safe digital environments, while others expressed concern that this could restrict the anonymous use of digital services.

The role and capabilities of technological applications were discussed in greater depth in the following workshop "Protecting vulnerable groups online from harmful content - new (technical) approaches". Andrew Campling, Internet Watch Foundation, and Anna Rywczynska from the Polish Safer Internet Centre described the dangers that young people, but also women and other users, face online. Zydrunas Tamasauskas from Oxylab then reported on technologies that his company has developed and described how artificial intelligence can be used to specifically search for content of sexual violence online. It was pointed out that any decisions on the legality of content and its possible removal are subject to human expertise. On the one hand, these procedures support authorities in their work to enforce existing law, while on the other hand they also ensure that any errors made by artificial intelligence can be corrected by humans.

The subsequent exchange showed that there is a need to develop and use technologies that are in line with human rights and do not pursue one objective at the expense of another. The VOICE study also came to the conclusion that children want a safe digital environment in which their privacy can be protected. This is in line with the results of a survey conducted during the workshop at EuroDIG. According to the survey, the majority of participants believe that protecting children online is compatible with safeguarding their digital privacy.