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Neelie Kroes

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

Making internet a better place for children – a shared responsibility

Safer Internet Forum

20 October 2011, Luxembourg

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to join your discussions at the Safer Internet Forum in Luxembourg. Especially as I can communicate with you through new technology!

Making children safe online, empowering them and protecting them, is one of my main priorities as European Commissioner. But I don't just want to talk ABOUT young people. I want to talk WITH them, too. To all you young people, I want to know what the Internet and new technologies mean to you, how you see it, how it influences your life. I am going to listen to what you need, what you want, and what you have to contribute.

I know many young people are here today. And others too: parents, teachers, the industry, the Polish EU presidency, non-governmental organisations, law enforcement bodies, and researchers. We are all gathered together because we are committed to the same thing: to make the Internet safe and fun for youngsters.

First of all, to all the children. You've probably heard other people say before that the Internet can be a great place for children. I agree! It opens a whole world of opportunity. You can talk, network, or send instant messages, chat with friends all over the world. You can share photos, games, ideas; create blogs or websites. You can play. And you can also learn, because a world of information is just a few clicks away. When the adults around you were growing up, when they were your age, they did not have those opportunities. We have taken a great step forward.

But for the Internet to be a great and positive experience, you must be able to tell which online material is true and which isn't. You should be capable to judge which kind of photos and personal information you should put online, and which you should not. You should be able to understand what privacy means– that is why it is valuable, and how you should preserve it.

Your parents, grandparents and teachers can help you to understand and to teach you how to acquire these skills. Remember that, even if they're not used to new technology, they have great life experience.

And, really, being safe and responsible online is just like being safe and responsible in "real life". So while you could maybe teach them a few things about the latest smartphone, gadget or website, they could also teach you something about how to stay safe online so you get the most out of it. It's about connecting generations and discovering the digital world together, safely.

At the same time, I want to hear from you. What's the best way to get kids to be creative online? What information would you like to see? What tools would help you or younger children have a safe and fun time online?

These and more questions will be asked in detail during the sessions at this Forum. Please, speak your mind and tell us your ideas. I'm going to be paying attention to those suggestions – even if I'm not there in person, someone's going to pass the message on to me. Because I and other adults – teachers, parents, people who work in computers, and governments – need to know what we should be doing.

Now, let me turn to the adults here.

We have been empowering and protecting children online since we set up the Safer Internet Programme in 1999. Since then, so much has changed almost beyond recognition: not just the technology, but the way children use it.

The digital environment is evolving quickly - and so must we. On average, children in Europe now start going online when they are seven. 38% of online 9 to 12 year olds have a social networking profile, in spite of age restrictions. And more than 30% of children who go online do so from a mobile device. This change brings new opportunities and challenges for all of us– governments and industry, young and old.

We recently published a report on how existing child safety recommendations are being implemented across Europe. Broadly, Member States and industry are making increasing efforts to respond to digital challenges; we are on the right track. But more than ever, we need to listen to young people's views – and raise awareness.

We need to encourage innovation, exchange ideas, and share resources. And we need to carry on building a cross-European infrastructure to empower and protect children, through an extended and better-resourced Safer Internet Programme.

Most of all, we need specific technical measures to protect children online. The challenge is to have measures which latch onto both platforms and audiovisual content; measures which are flexible and responsive; and measures which allow the room for both freedom of speech and viable business models. For that, we need a policy mix, with a significant component of self-regulation.

I know that companies understand their responsibility towards under-age users. Existing self-regulation initiatives have achieved a lot: for example, for social networking, mobile phone use, and the PEGI age rating system.

And I'm looking forward to the next step: the ICT Principles that the industry is now working on. It's positive that this will cover the whole industry value-chain. Young people use a wide range of devices and a wide range of services, in a wide range of ways. Children, parents and teachers need to have a smooth online experience and not have to learn new terminology and new tools for every new service they use.

In this context I strongly encourage industry to reflect on how the self-regulatory process can deliver on very concrete measures to be implemented in a consistent manner on services within the same sectors.

In order to get a high-level commitment from industry on the self-regulatory process, I have called on a coalition of CEOs who met yesterday, to explore whether we can make progress to empower children in Europe to surf safely, respectfully and responsibly.

The challenge is to see how the following measures could materialise in the next 18 months:

  • First, children should be able to easily report abusive content, cyber-bullying or grooming using a "single-click" system;

  • Second, children's profiles on services like social networking sites should be set to privacy by default—or measures with equivalent effect;

  • Third, Internet-connected devices should have parental controls installed also by default;

  • Fourth, age-rating and content classification systems need expansion and improvement—including common standards and the possibility for user-driven ratings;

  • And finally, we need to step up the fight against child sex abuse material. I find it appalling that it takes so much time to take down child sexual abuse content, when in other areas, for example related to copyright, content is taken down quickly.

I want everyone involved in this process, hotlines, industry and law enforcement bodies, to come up with concrete suggestions for how this can be changed. I will follow the results of these discussions closely.

At the same time, Member States also have responsibilities. They need to match the European investment in awareness raising, to ensure online safety is taught in schools, and to increase the resources for law enforcement bodies to combat child sex abuse material.

I am very glad that the Polish EU Presidency has put Protection of Minors on their agenda and is preparing Council Conclusions.

Of course, standards can still be higher across Europe. In the coming months, building on this existing work, I will launch a communication that will set up a European strategy to make the Internet a better place for children. It will include measures to empower and protect.

Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, once famously said that "the Internet is for everyone". If that is true, then the Internet must be a place of security, privacy and safety for everyone: especially the young.

If we provide the right tools, if we get the right skills, we will all benefit. Adults will have the confidence to know that going online is not harmful, but positive, for their kids. Children will be empowered to benefit from a space to learn, play and develop, and to deal with the risks they may find there. And the industry will find a growing market of assured young citizens, ready and able to benefit from the best the Internet as to offer.

Only then will we achieve the dream of getting every European digital.

Thank you.

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