Answers, answers

2017 has set off at a blistering pace.

The first week is not over yet and already we have had two important announcements.

Searching for answers

NSPCC got in first with its call for parents to make greater use of the safe search functions that are available in pretty much every web browser, or at any rate all the well known ones. We are provided with some graphic examples of how things can go wrong if a child types in what most of us would think of as being perfectly innocent words a young person might use a lot.

As part of their campaign NSPCC has produced an extremely useful guide showing how to set up safe search and other parental controls on every type of device or internet access point any child is likely to use.

But here’s the thing. We now know that one in three of all internet users in the world is a legal minor – below the age of 18 – and that this rises to nearly one in two in parts of the developing world. In the UK the proportion is roughly 1 in 5. We also know there are nearly 19 million families in the UK. Of these about 8 million have dependent children and internet penetration in households with dependent children is well-nigh 100%.

Thus whatever way you look at it the internet is a medium in which children are a very substantial and persistent presence. The internet may, or may not, topple dictators but it definitely helps little Susie with her spelling. That being so, what is the argument against having safe search turned on by default? Anyone who doesn’t want to use it can turn it off but it should be that way around. No parent should have to jump through hoops to do whatever can be done at a technical level to keep unwanted and unsuitable stuff away from their kids. I know the false sense of security argument but what about the haven’t got a clue/I can’t read English/ too stressed right now/technology freaks me out but I know my kids need it position? Do we just say tough and move on? I hope not.

Commissioning answers

Next today saw the publication of  Growing up Digital an excellent report by the Children’s Commissioner for England. It was another call to action.  There is a completely brilliant section – written by a lawyer from Schillings – where Instagram’s Ts& Cs are translated into plain language that a younger person might have a better chance of understanding. Try this for size. Here are several child-friendly new clauses…..

  1. Officially you own any original pictures and videos you post, but we are allowed to use them, and we can let others use them as well, anywhere around the world. Other people might pay us to use them and we will not pay you for that.
  1. Although you are responsible for the information you put on Instagram, we may keep, use and share your personal information with companies connected with Instagram. This information includes your name, email address, school, where you live, pictures, phone number, your likes and dislikes, where you go, who your friends are, how often you use Instagram, and any other personal information we find such as your birthday or who you are chatting with, including in private messages (DMs). We are not responsible for what other companies might do with this information. We will not rent or sell your personal information to anyone else without your permission. When you delete your account, we keep this personal information about you, and your photos, for as long as is reasonable for our business purposes. You can read more about this in our “Privacy Policy”. This is available at:
  1. Although Instagram is not responsible for what happens to you or your data while you use Instagram, we do have many powers:

– We might send you adverts connected to your interests which we are monitoring. You cannot stop us doing this and it will not always be obvious that it is an advert.

– We can change or end Instagram, or stop you accessing Instagram at any time, for any reason and without letting you know in advance.

– We can also delete posts and other content randomly, without telling you, for any reason. If we do this, we will not be responsible for paying out any money and you won’t have any right to complain.

– We can force you to give up your username for any reason.

– We can, but do not have to, remove, edit, block and/or monitor anything posted or any accounts that we think breaks any of these rules.

-We are not responsible if somebody breaks the law or breaks these rules; but if you break them, you are responsible.

  1. Although you do not own your data, we do own ours. You may not copy and paste Instagram logos or other stuff we create, or remove it or try to change it. You should use common sense and your best judgment when using Instagram.

Beyond this  I will not go through those sections of the Children’s Commissioner’s report which repeat the all too familiar litany of shortcomings, complained about by large numbers of children who told the researchers they felt the social media platforms were too unresponsive. In the days of vinyl it was possible for a needle to get stuck in a groove and keep on playing the same soundtrack over and over again. That’s where we are right now with a lot of this.

Yes it is true that Facebook, Google and others provide stunning services and do some brilliant child protection work, particularly around illegal content and illegal behaviour. Their wider philanthropy and educational initiatives are to be applauded but they provide no alibi for inaction or obfuscation in other parts of the space. Read on.

Answers came there none

The Commissioner tells us

It is currently impossible to know how many children are reporting content, what they are reporting and how these reports are dealt with. When the Children’s Commissioner requested information from Facebook and Google about the numbers and types of requests it receives from minors to remove content neither was able to provide it.

So there we have it. These two big beasts must know what is going on within their businesses but they choose not to disclose it, even to a body which is dedicated solely to children’s interests. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Getting the answers

The denouement of the Report – its crowning glory – is its call for the creation of an e-Ombudsman for children. Australia has one. We need one. And it has to be a body with the legal power to compel online businesses to answer its questions and obey its directions. Otherwise they won’t if they fear it might harm their business interests.