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Brussels, 6 February 2007
Almost 40 countries will participate in the fourth Safer Internet Day, which this year takes place on 6 February. The event is organised by INSAFE, the European safer internet network and is co-funded by the EU’s Safer Internet Programme.
1. Preparing the European Framework on Safer Mobile Use by Younger Teenagers and Children: An example of self-regulation
On June 2005, a plenary session of the Safer Internet Forum attracted 200 representatives from industry and child welfare organisations to discuss child safety and mobile phones. In her speech Mrs Reding expressed her concerns about the emerging risks, encouraged the type of self-regulation that had already started in some Member States, and called on all countries to get involved in this process.
The Commission published a paper on the safer use of mobile phones, in support of a public consultation on child safety and mobile phones from 25 July to 16 October 2006 (see IP/06/1059). GSM Europe proposed in its contribution to develop a framework-based approach at European level, to be implemented through national self-regulation.
To support this idea, Commissioner Reding gathered a High Level group of stakeholders (mobile operators, content providers, industry associations, child safety and consumer organisations, and regulators), which drew-up the document signed today (see IP/07/140).
A list of organisations/persons which took part in this High Level group and the list of mobile operators that have now joined the fight against illegal mobile content and to protect children by signing the agreement - are annexed. The signing took place in Brussels at 11.30 today.
The agreement itself can be found at: http://europa.eu.int/saferinternet.
Will self-regulation or co-regulation be enough? Other examples
The framework agreement signed today by the mobile operators is an example of self-regulation. This should lead to agreements with the national regulators of the mobile sector by February 2008.
The Commission believes that such self regulation should be given every chance to work, and will be watching closely to see how quickly and how far this can be effective. Together with co-regulation, such new approaches may well lead to better regulation, and, if backed by sufficient means to enforce regulations, prove to be more effective in dealing with rapid technological, economic and social change.
National examples include:
§ In the UK mobile operators were the first in Europe to launch their Mobile Operator Code of Practice for New Content Services in January 2004. They appointed the Independent Mobile Content Board to provide a framework for classifying commercial content into two categories, unrestricted and 18+ content, based on acceptable standards in other UK media. It provides for parental control tools e.g. barring, blocking, filtering mechanisms on access to 18 content.
§ In Germany the mobile operators' code of conduct for protecting the young using mobiles of June 2005 involves both operators and service providers, and allows unsuitable content only if parents can bar it from their children. Adults-only content uses an age verification system. The code also contains regulations for chat, games and advertising.
§ In France the Mobile Multimedia Charter to better protect minors was signed in January 2006 by members of the French mobile operators association (AFOM). Signatories agree to help parents control access to mobile content. In December 2006 there was 26 times more parental control (82,056) on mobiles when new accounts were opened than in October 2006 (3,082) following a drive at sales points.
The Commission also presented today a study that looked in detail at examples of co-regulation in the audio-visual sector and their impact. It had a particular focus on the advertising sector and the protection of minors, and has some findings in common with the public consultation on safer use of mobile phones (see also IP/07/139).
Further information on the public consultation on child safety and mobile phones
The public consultation ran from 25 July 2006 until 16 October 2006 (see IP/06/1059). The Commission received 74 contributions from 20 EU countries from the main stakeholders industry actors, associations (NGOs) and public administrations.
Most respondents welcomed the Commission's initiative to launch this debate on issues raised by child safety and mobile phones.
The contributions received gave evidence on how, in the last few years, mobile phone use by children and young people has increased dramatically. In Germany, 92% of the 12-19 year-olds and 47% of the 6-13 year-olds had a mobile phone in 2005. Save the Children Italy's survey shows that 31% of 5-13 year-olds and nearly 100% of 14-18 year-olds had mobile phones. Nobody's children Foundation survey in Poland found 92.1% of 12-17 year olds owning a mobile phone. In the UK, the average age for children to be given their first mobile phone has fallen to eight. The 2005 Eurobarometer survey shows that in several countries children are more likely to own a mobile phone (54% in both Lithuania and Latvia, 30% in Greece) than to have internet access (Lithuania 52%; 52%, 26%).
The consultation revealed that there is general consensus that, along with all the benefits that mobile phones bring to young people, some risks exist. The main risks identified included: harassment and bullying, sexual grooming for abuse and sexual discussions, misleading contracts with minors, access to chargeable content, fraud and spam, high costs, exposure and access to illegal/harmful/adult content, pornography and violence and risks concerning children's privacy, in particular due to the inappropriate use of camera phones and location services.
Some of the risks were quantified. Save the Children Finland survey, 30% of 7-15 year olds had experienced bullying. In a survey carried out in Flanders (Belgium), 10% youngsters had experienced cyberbullying. In a UK survey by NCH and Tesco mobile, 14% of children had been bullied through their mobile, 10% had had an unpleasant image taken of them, and 17% feared that the image was posted online and forwarded to others.
All respondents agree that the responsibility for children's safe use of mobile phones should be shared between parents and carers, the industry (Mobile Network Operators and service providers) and public authorities. However, operators stress that some of the risks – bullying, grooming, access to content they do not control - go beyond their responsibilities. For this reason, these aspects are not included in the framework agreement signed today.
All stakeholders agree that awareness-raising is essential. Children and their parents both need to be much more conscious and careful in the ways that they allow their mobile phones to be used. Many NGOs stress that it is very important for such information to be provided at points of sale.
Self-regulation is seen as potentially the most appropriate way to ensure child protection due to the rapidly changing technical environment, but self-regulation still needs to be launched or effectively implemented in some countries. Some respondents call for more regulation in some other countries.
A number of proposals have been made concerning pan-European actions. Through their European association GSME, operators propose the "development of an EU-wide common Framework for national self-regulation". In part today's framework agreement addresses this need (see IP/07/138)
Some answers call for a minimum standard of regulation/self-regulation agreed at EU level, including opt-in for access to adult content and moderation of chat rooms accessed by children.
Some respondents suggest exploring solutions at European scale: common thematic content classification, development of common standards for mobile-based internet filtering tools, alternatives to blocking the internet, child safety in handset manufacturing standards. There is general support for the creation of a platform for exchanging best practices at European level, which should be supported by the Commission, and for continuous actions in the Safer Internet programme: hotlines awareness campaigns dedicated to mobiles, European surveys/research.
The consultation findings are available at: http://europa.eu.int/saferinternet.
Safer Internet Day
The Safer Internet Day showcases existing safer internet activities around the world and helps raise awareness about the issues surrounding safer use of the internet and new technologies.
This year the highlight of the day will once again be a worldwide blogathon, which will run for 24 hours, starting in Australia and progressing westward throughout the day to finish in the US and Canada. Following the huge success in 2006, this year’s blogathon goes one step further to include the voices of hundreds of youngsters.
In a competition launched in October 2006, more than 200 schools in 29 countries across the globe have been working in pairs, using technology to cross geographical borders and to create internet safety awareness material on one of three themes: e-privacy, "netiquette", and the power of images.
To find out more about young people’s use of the internet and mobile phones, INSAFE has been collecting data over the past two months through an online survey (http://insafe-survey.eun.org/). Preliminary results and a wealth of other information tailored to the needs of parents, teachers and youngsters - are available in an online media room especially set up to mark the event: http:// www.saferinternet.org.
As examples of national Safer Internet Day activities, HRH Princess Maxima of The Netherlands is the special guest at an event featuring theatre, music and stories (http://www.digibewust.nl/); in Slovenia, young people are showcasing art projects and Slovenian national television is broadcasting internet safety clips; and in Sweden the national awareness node is presenting a guide on safe use of mobile phones together with children.
Across the globe, hundreds of other events are highlighting the growing importance of internet safety in the lives of us all. For the full calendar of events see http://www.saferinternet.org.
The Safer Internet programme's objectives and concrete results
The Safer Internet programme has been running since 1999, equipping parents and teachers with the knowledge and tools they need to ensure child safety online http://europa.eu.int/saferinternet.
The current phase, Safer Internet plus (2005-2008), has four main actions (see IP/04/333):
1. Fighting against illegal content: A European network of 21 national hotlines allows users, many of which are reluctant to report incidences directly to the police, to anonymously report illegal content to be passed to the appropriate body for action. According to INHOPE, the International Association of Internet Hotlines, about 65,000 reports were referred to national and international law enforcement agencies during 2005 for further action and investigation.
2. Tackling unwanted and harmful content: Technologies can be developed that limit the amount of unwanted and harmful content users receive, and help them manage it when they do. The project SIP Bench funded under the Safer Internet Plus programme provides an independent assessment of current filtering software and services available to parents. The first results have just been published (http://www.sip-bench.eu/)
3. Promoting a safer environment: The European Commission supports a self-regulatory approach. The Safer Internet Forum has been set up to encourage dialogue and enable stakeholders to exchange best practice every year on topics such as child safety and mobile phones, the children's use of new media, how to block access to illegal material such as child abuse images. The Forum brings together industry, child welfare organisations and policy makers. See http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/sip/si_forum/
4. Raising awareness of internet safety: A European network of 23 national ‘awareness nodes’ – INSAFE – has been set up to coordinate internet safety awareness in Europe (http://www.saferinternet.org). The website has contact details for all national nodes. INSAFE and its nodes carry out awareness actions (events, training) and runs websites to inform parents, children and teachers on safe use of the internet. In 2006, 11 television channels in Germany showed a special internet safety spot: "Wo ist Klaus", which won the silver medal at the "New York Festivals International Advertising Awards“.
With a budget of €45m, actions under the Safer Internet plus programme extend to new online technologies, including mobile and broadband content, online games, peer-to-peer file transfer, and all forms of real-time communications such as chat rooms and instant messaging, primarily with the aim of improving the protection of children and minors. Actions will cover a broad range of areas of illegal and harmful content and conduct, including racism, violence and 'spam'. It is considered as a pioneering programme and has been used as a model in other regions worldwide (see IP/06/1512).
High Level Group participants - Child safety and mobile phones
Deutsche Telekom Group
Hutchison Europe 3G
Mobile Entertainment Forum
Royal KPN N.V.
Save the Children Finland
Telecom Italia S.p.A
Telefonica Moviles, S.A.
 JIM Studie 2005 Mediapädagogischer Forshungsverbund Südwest