Original publication: February 2018
Authors: London School of Economics and Political Science: Sonia Livingstone, Damian Tambini and Nikola Belakova
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2sfS6tB
The widespread use of digital technologies is changing the conditions of childhood across the EU and globally. An estimated one in three internet users worldwide is under the age of 18 (Livingstone, Carr and Byrne, 2015). While internet use varies considerably by age, circumstance and country, more children are going online, more frequently, via more devices and services, at an ever younger age, and for more activities – many of them now essential to daily life (Livingstone, Lansdown and Third, 2017; UNICEF, 2017).
Rapid technological development offers extraordinary new opportunities for children in relation to learning and information, entertainment and play, communication and participation (OECD, 2012a). Simultaneously, it poses risks to minors’ safety, wellbeing and rights (OECD, 2012b).
The EU strategy for the protection of minors in the digital environment, especially regarding harmful content, conduct and contact, has focused on increasing public awareness (through education programmes), wider development and use of technological solutions and the fight against child sexual abuse online. It has relied heavily on mechanisms of self-regulation, including dispute procedures, voluntary codes of conduct and technical measures, co-regulation and user empowerment.
This briefing paper analyses and evaluates key EU policy developments on the protection of minors in the digital age to support the CULT Committee’s deliberations, with the focus on developments since 2012 and future recommendations.
EU policy developments since 2012
- These have prioritised self-regulation, public awareness-raising, development of technological tools and solutions, and the fight against child sexual abuse online.
- The main legal standard introduced since 2012 is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (2016). The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) is currently undergoing revision. The European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children (2012) coordinates ongoing policy initiatives at European and Member State level.
- The fundamental regime for intermediary liability and the fundamental rights of children is unchanged, although there are ongoing discussions regarding takedown procedures, and an attempt to provide greater clarity to stakeholders (including internet intermediaries) about their responsibilities.
- Council of Europe and international developments are noted in the Annex.
Evaluation of existing initiatives and instruments
- Pressing challenges are identified in relation to each of three intersecting legal and policy instruments, with difficulties centred on the implementation of legislation, the effectiveness of self-regulation and the media literacy of the public.
- There is a lack of clarity about the responsibilities of various categories of service providers. Extension of the AVMSD to video-on-demand (VOD) providers may address some concerns, but other social media platforms continue to benefit from liability exemptions under the E-Commerce Directive.
- There is evidence that parents and children struggle to understand the available options and tools, as well as the risks they face and their responsibilities, in relation to different digital services and to the specific needs of each child.
- Existing initiatives and instruments are evaluated in relation to implementation of the GDPR, revision of the AVMSD and the four pillars of the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children.
- We recommend that the Strategy for a Better Internet for Children includes the development of a comprehensive Code of Conduct for the converged digital environment that sets minimum standards for providers of services used by children, to replace the historically separate codes applicable to different sectors.
- This Code should be underpinned by strong backstop powers, including independent monitoring and evaluation, a trusted and sufficiently resourced body empowered to ensure compliance and significant sanctions at its disposal as needed. Additionally, EU standards of transparency, accountability, public trust, etc., must be met.
- It should include guidance to intermediaries regarding their responsibilities for child protection in the provision of services intended for and used by children, and clear consumer information and protections if services are not intended for children.
- We recommend the provision of dedicated European funding to ensure pan-EU data collection on a regular basis to ensure robust, up-to-date evidence to guide the development of EU policy on the protection of minors in the digital age.
- We propose that the EU should develop a Recommendation that promotes an integrated approach to media literacy defined broadly to support critical understanding, creative production and participation as well as protective actions and technical skills.
- In order to achieve effective coordination, we recommend that the Commission convene a permanent High Level Group on the protection of minors in the digital age. This would bring together the Code of Conduct to develop and implement new standards for service providers, the Recommendation on media literacy, and encourage Member States to develop more centralised advice on services deemed beneficial for children.
- All these actions must include the meaningful participation of children themselves (as is their right to be consulted) and those relevant experts able to represent children’s best interests.
This is the third of three briefing papers, of which the other two focus on evidence and regulatory dilemmas. Our approach combines analysis of legal standards, policy documents and legal and policy instruments with analysis of secondary information from expert studies and surveys.
Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/617-454
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