If people have to choose

Today ECPAT international and ECPAT Netherlands have published the results of research into attitudes towards online child protection and privacy.

If you have ever read the “about” section at the bottom of every blog I publish, you will know I am an adviser to ECPAT International but in this blog I am reflecting my personal views, not the organization’s.

There were three components to the research.

A quantitative survey was carried out by YouGov in eight EU Member States – France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden and The Netherlands. The full data set is available via the link above.

The development of the questions for the quantitative survey was guided by qualitative work carried out by “Outrageous Impact” in seven of the eight countries.

We were also helped by legal and technical background reports which ECPAT International commissioned.

A world first

I  cannot recall ever seeing anything which addresses the issue of privacy and online child protection so directly. It is a world first, providing a new and wholly welcome perspective  which should help shape several debates currently taking place.

Politicians please note. The privacy lobby is way out of touch with your voters

When it comes to balancing concerns about privacy and child protection the great majority of adults appear not to share the same fears or anxieties as the highly vocal, well funded and well organized, lawyer-and-geek-heavy privacy lobby which has dominated the public discourse hitherto. 

Quite the opposite in fact. First off a substantial proportion of adults (68%) do not think there is much, if any, online privacy to begin with. Only 25% thought there was.

But fully 76% thought that allowing online service providers to be able to detect and flag any signs of child online sexual exploitation or abuse is more, or as important, as their own privacy online.

Most respondents in the qualitative research did not know that hash detection or anti-grooming tools existed but once participants learnt about them, they were angry they weren’t being used and turned on at all times. 

And they held to this view even when they were told their data could be scanned to achieve this.  The desire to protect children is strong. Very strong. 

Reverting back to the quantitative data there was big support (68%) for the EU to legislate to make the online world safer for children.

No surprises. Most people care deeply about protecting children

How heartening that such ordinary human decency has been expressed in such an overwhelming and forthright way. No faux angst here. Just a straightforward, compassionate desire to protect the vulnerable. Who knew? I suspect we all did but here we have been able to document and thereby fortify it.

If the only voices people hear are from the loud, the well-organized and well-funded, it becomes all too easy for us to be lulled into thinking this represents some kind of consensus. It doesn’t. At least not here.

In democracies the views of the people matter. And now you’ve heard them.

Was this the least shocking but still terrible finding?

73% of adults surveyed believed it was not possible for a child to use the internet without being approached by adults seeking to harm them. Well done us for allowing things to turn out this way. Not. We need to draw a line under the internet of yesterday and create an internet fit for tomorrow. The EU is in a great position to get us moving along that path.

A postscript for the UK and many other places

If I was a gambling man I would like to place a bet that if the same research was carried out in any country where the use of digital technologies was widespread among children, for example in the UK and in the vast majority of the liberal democracies as well as among people living under not so liberal regimes, the results would be pretty much identical or at any rate very close. Why? Because when it comes to raising children we all share very similar hopes, dreams and fears and share similar experiences. It’s called being human.