Ensuring a safe and beneficial digital environment for children

By Elettra Ronchi, Andras Molnar and Lisa Robinson

OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation

Children today spend more time online, and engage with the digital environment for myriad reasons through a variety of different devices. Recent estimates suggest that one out of every three Internet users is a child, and that children in Europe spend between 134 minutes and 219 minutes per day online. The effect of rapid technological developments on children underscores the need for policy to keep pace.

In response, the OECD is pleased to announce the adoption of the Recommendation on Children in the Digital Environment. The Recommendation recognises both the integral role of the digital environment in the daily lives of our children and the urgent need to support policy makers and other stakeholders to create safe, beneficial and equitable conditions for all children. This approach focuses on bringing legal and policy responses up to date with technological advancement, developing a strong evidence-base, and building coherent policy responses.

The Recommendation:

  • Sets out principles that call for children’s empowerment to achieve inclusive and equal digital access and for multi-stakeholder engagement. They are respectful of human rights, and reflect key child rights principles such as ensuring the child’s best interests and child participation.
  • Makes recommendations to governments on their overarching policy frameworks, calling for coherent, evidence-based policy responses, effective legal measures, and the promotion of digital literacy as an essential tool.
  • Emphasises the importance of international co-operation, calling for the strengthening of international and regional networks and the development of shared statistical frameworks.
  • Includes separate guidelines for Digital Service Providers with four areas of action: a) taking a child safety by design approach when designing or delivering services; b) ensuring effective information provision and transparency through clear, plain and age-appropriate language; c) establishing safeguards and taking precautions regarding children’s privacy, data protection and the commercial use of such data; and d) demonstrating governance and accountability.

The digital environment offers a wide range of opportunities and benefits for children beyond undertaking discrete tasks, such as research or schooling, to more complex activities such as entertainment, communicating with friends and family, and expressing their creativity in increasingly diverse ways.

These tremendous opportunities are accompanied by a shifting risk landscape that has evolved dramatically over the last few years. For example, risks such as sexting and fake news emerged as threats to children, while other risks such as cyberbullying changed in scale and nature. This rapidly evolving landscape led the OECD to recently revise its Typology of Risks, which is reflected within and underpins the Recommendation. The revised Typology identifies four main categories of risks (contact, content, conduct, consumer) as well as three areas of cross-cutting risks (health and wellbeing; privacy; advanced technology risks).

Through its Recommendation and Guidelines the OECD has responded to an urgent call for clear, strong guidance in a rapidly changing landscape. Going forward, the OECD will continue to provide much needed support for governments and other stakeholders in protecting children from the risks of the digital environment and helping them fully realise its benefits.

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