New Report on Internet Safety for Children and Parents

Ofcom has published a new report for the UK Government that benchmarks the take-up, awareness and confidence of parents in relation to the use of online parental controls. The report on internet safety measures draws on pre-published research contained in the 2013 Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes report and the 2012 Parents’ views on parental controls report (earlier reporting on this topic by Broadcast Projects can be found here).

The report provides an overview of children’s access to the open internet as an educational resource, as a platform for communication and creativity, but also as a source of distinct risks around content, contact and conduct, with specific regulatory challenges. It describes the tactics of parents, carers and educators in guiding and informing children’s behaviour through education and advice, mediation and rules as critical aspects of child protection online with site5 coupon. It also looks at safety mechanisms and the role of industry.

Under EU legislation – the E-commerce Directive – intermediaries (such as ISPs, hosts and search engines) are protected from having content regulatory obligations imposed upon them. These intermediaries do not know whether the services they carry, index or host are unlawful or potentially harmful, and the Directive exempts them from responsibility for the actions of their users in making content available – even if those users make available unlawful material. The effect of this framework is to create two critical categories of intermediary: ¨mere conduits¨ (most importantly ISPs), which only transmit data, and cannot be held responsible for unlawful or potentially harmful use of their networks; and hosts, including web hosts and social networks, which allow others to offer content online. Hosts cannot be made responsible for identifying illegal content, but can be required to remove content when it is identified as illegal by others – in other words, on an ex post basis. This is the trade-off that stands today, taking account of both the benefits of liability protection as well as the consumer risks arising from an ´open internet´.
The actual research sets the context for mediation by looking at key changes in children’s use of the internet, their likes and dislikes compared to the online concerns of parents, providing an in-depth picture of the broad range of online mediation strategies employed by parents and their levels of confidence about their ability to keep their children safe online. In particular it focuses on the  parental mediation of websites regularly visited by children, including search engines, YouTube and social networking sites, and the safety mechanisms incorporated within those sites.

In perhaps the most interesting section, the reports looks at the various reasons why some parents choose not to install parental controls and reveals that overall parents who do not set the controls feel they can trust their child not to do anything irresponsible online. While others who contend that they actively use the controls, in fact do not. Overall, it is lack of understanding of how to use the controls that presents the biggest obstacle to their use.

This is the first of three reports that will be provided in response to a request from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). This followed a Government request to UK internet service providers regarding the implementation of network level filters.

Ofcom’s second report – expected later in 2014 – will look at the internet service providers’ commitments to implement network level filtering. BT, Sky, Talk Talk and Virgin Media committed to delivering family-friendly network level filters for all new customers by the end of December 2013. The final report will be a repeat of the research exercise to establish how filtering initiatives have influenced parents’ views and behaviours in this area.