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IP/10/704

Brussels, 9 June 2010

Digital Agenda: Commissioner Kroes welcomes mobile operators' work on child safety; calls for more effort to raise parents' awareness

European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has welcomed progress made by mobile phone operators on their work to keep children safe while using mobile phones, but urged operators to raise parents' awareness of new potential risks children face when using smart phones (such as easier access to adult content on the internet). A report just published by the GSM Association, the trade body of the mobile phone industry, shows that 91 companies are putting in place at national level the measures agreed in a Europe-wide voluntary agreement brokered by the European Commission in 2007 (see IP/07/139). National self-regulatory codes based on the European framework now exist in 25 Member States, which means that 96% of all EU mobile subscribers are benefitting from this agreement.

Neelie Kroes, EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda said "Keeping young people safe online is a key commitment of the Digital Agenda for Europe, which is why I welcome today's report which demonstrates that the mobile phone companies are taking their responsibilities seriously. However, I call on the mobile industry to make sure that people of all ages fully understand the risks, and where to find help, as parents are often not as tuned into the latest developments in mobile phones as the younger generation,."

A new report of the mobile industry shows that impressive progress has been made by the 83 mobile operators signed up to the "European Framework for Safer Mobile Use by Younger Teenagers and Children” brokered by the Commission in February 2007. These operators cover 96% of all EU mobile customers. 8 further companies have also signed up to a national code of conduct.

Overall, mobile operators have made good progress on the four areas of action identified in the 2007 code:

  • Operators have put in place measures to control children's access to adult content. For example, Latvian mobile operators carry out age-checks at the point of sale and allow parents to block internet access on their children's phone free of charge.

  • Operators are also working to classify commercial content available on mobile phones. Italian mobile operators use colour coded-icons to show if content is acceptable for all, targeted at children or should be viewed in the presence of an adult, or whether it is adult-only content.

  • Various mobile operators produce educational material and run awareness campaigns about safer mobile use. UK mobile operators have developed stand alone websites on this subject and produced guides, pledge cards, DVDs and brochures. Maltese operators provide free and 24 hour help lines to give advice.

  • Czech and Slovak mobile operators are working to fight illegal content on mobile networks and block access to websites with illegal content.

The report also shows that a number of national codes include requirements that go even beyond the scope of the EU framework. For instance, a code of ethics on marketing towards children has been developed in Hungary, and in the UK a similar code of practice to govern the use of passive location services has been produced. Feedback from child protection stakeholders such as Save the Children in Denmark, International Children's Safety Service in Hungary and Protegeles in Spain, also shows that national codes of conduct have also helped in getting mobile operators engaged with NGOs.

However, stakeholders in some EU countries also told the mobile phone industry that they expected more action to inform parents of the risks and opportunities of fast moving mobile internet issues. For example, the Latvian Children's Fund reported that while the youngest mobile phone users were aware and more informed of potential risks, when facing real problems, they only sought advice and help from parents in the final stage.

Keeping children safe online - whether they surf from a computer or mobile phone is one of the key priorities of the European Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200). Providers of the online services that are most popular among the younger generations (e.g. social networks, mobile phone operators) will be asked to further develop self-regulatory measures regarding online safety for children by 2013.

In particular, thanks to the EU Safer Internet programme, most European Member States have set up hotlines for reporting offensive online content and offer teaching online safety in schools. They will be encouraged to step up their efforts in the years to come.

Background

The "European Framework for Safer Mobile Use by Younger Teenagers and Children" was developed in response to many issues raised in the Commission's 2006 public consultation on safer mobile use (see IP/06/1059).

List of European Framework signatories:

http://www.gsmeurope.org/documents/List_of_signatories_Dec_09.pdf

Codes of conduct exist now in all Member States except Estonia and Finland, where discussions at national level are currently ongoing.

For more on the latest GSMA report see:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/sip/self_reg/phones/index_en.htm

The Safer Internet programme 2009-2013.

http://ec.europa.eu/saferinternet


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