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Make internet settings simple for kids, new report urges online bosses

Children need simpler privacy and safety settings to protect themselves on internet sites, an expert report advises the European Commission today.

More than one in four children on social networking sites have their profile set to public so that anyone can view it – and children are more likely to have a public profile if they cannot manage the privacy settings.

Poor design and location of reporting tools may also explain why so few children (just 13 per cent of 9-16 year olds) actually use these tools when they are upset by something online.

The ICT industry should also consider the e-safety demands of ever younger internet users.

This advice is part of a package of recommendations presented by the EU Kids Online project in Brussels today to a coalition of the industry’s chief executives established by European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes to consider how to make the internet a better place for children.

EU kids online logoEU Kids Online, which has surveyed 25,000 children and their families across Europe to understand the risks they face online, reports new analysis in support of specific actions in the following areas: age-appropriate privacy settings, simple and robust reporting tools, wider use of content classification and wider use of parental controls.

The project found that almost four in ten (38 per cent) children aged 9-12 who use the internet have a profile on social networking site (even though many networks set a mininum joining age of 13). This rises to 77 per cent of children aged 13-16.

Of those, 26 per cent have a public profile which can be freely viewed. And those children are more likely to display their phone number or address on their profile, risking unwelcome or inappropriate contact.

The report, 'Towards a Better Internet for Children', concludes that since children still struggle with user tools, safety devices, privacy settings and policies, privacy controls must be made more user-friendly. For younger users, more use could be made of intuitive icons and pictograms.

Its other recommendations include:

  • systems which make it easier and more effective to report worrying content online
  • greater use of age-rating and content warnings for sites which include .potentially harmful content such as sex, violence or self-harm 
  • better tools for parents who wish to to filter out potentially harmful content

Sonia LivingstoneThe report's joint author Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at LSE, said: "Our research shows that parents are more worried about their children meeting strangers online or seeing harmful content than they are about their involvement with alcohol, drugs or sex.

"There are many things the industry can do to reduce the risks of children being online and we have recommended those which the evidence suggests will make the biggest practical differerence. This will also reduce the fears of children and parents about social networks and online acitivity and help them get the best from the internet's tremendous opportunities. Above all, they need to be given the skills, the tools and the power to control their life online."

The full report, 'Towards a better internet for children' by Sonia Livingstone, Kjartan Ólafsson, Brian O'Neill and Verónica Donoso, is available online at www.eukidsonline.net

EU Kids Online is funded by the Safer Internet Programme to provide evidence for policy-making in the field.



1 June 2012