Why Online Safety Tech must take a front seat this Safer Internet Day

Why Online Safety Tech must take a front seat this Safer Internet Day

Each year, on 9th February, the online community comes together to mark Safer Internet Day. It’s a day which grows in importance as the years go by and online harms increase.

Here at the Online Safety Tech Industry Association (OSTIA), we wanted to put our heads together to share our thoughts and expertise around the role online safety tech needs to play – now, and moving forwards.

Driving public discourse and innovation

We first spoke with Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Digital and Culture who summarised the important role of collaboration and technology in improving internet safety: “Technology is crucial in delivering a safe online environment and OSTIA’s members are at the forefront of this with innovative online security products. “

“For our part, the government is introducing ground-breaking new laws including a duty of care for tech companies that will help us protect children and together, keep everyone safer online.”

Ian Stevenson, Chair of OSTIA and CEO at Cyan, agrees noting that Safer Internet Day is an opportunity to celebrate all the amazing work that is done to keep people safe online, and to reflect on how much there is still to do.

He continues: “An ever-increasing flow of news stories reminds us of the human impact and lives lost due to bullying, racism, misinformation and child abuse fuelled by internet services.

This is a societal problem and change needs to be driven by public discourse. We’re delighted to see that increasingly happening, not least in the UK where great progress is being made towards vital Online Harms legislation. Events in Washington, including the attack on Congress and subsequent banning of a sitting president from Twitter are accelerating this debate globally.”

“2020 served as a renewed call to arms for all of us to work together for a better internet,” says Adam Hildreth, CEO and Founder at Crisp. “And, while we’ve made great strides in safety tech, bad actors are also increasing their capability. As a result, this past year saw unprecedented levels of hate speech and radicalisation by groups and individuals intent on inflicting harm, especially toward those most vulnerable.”

He goes on to agree with Ian, describing: “This was further exacerbated by a continually evolving anti-vaxx disinformation narrative around the pandemic; a risk that is certain to only worsen in 2021. It is therefore critical that we keep ahead of the curve and continually innovate.”

Creating safe spaces

When online, it’s essential that kids have safe digital spaces to play, learn and develop. Feeling connected and empowered online has never been more important than right now. Craig Donaghy, Head of Child Safeguarding at SuperAwesome, recommends: “Anyone creating and sharing content for kids needs to ensure they’re doing so in trusted spaces, and on platforms that have been designed with the safety needs of children as a priority.”

Adriano Teti, Trust and Safety Business Development Director at Spirit AI, emphasises the importance of creating spaces online for children: “At Spirit we believe that the internet should be a safer and more inclusive place for everyone. Using technologies such as natural language processing tools and machine learning enables communities to be better protected from extreme toxicity and create a safe, positive environment.

Our mission is to help ensure the safe and beneficial introduction of AI that is ethical, inclusive and empowering for all.”

Implementing change

Looking at the policy side of the debate, Julie Dawson, Director of Regulatory & Policy at Yoti, believes we need to work together to introduce laws that protect kids nationally and internationally. She adds: “More needs to be done to explain the risks and technologies available to fix them while preserving people’s rights to privacy. Age verification and age estimation can support content platforms to meet regulatory requirements, such as the Age Appropriate Design Code, Audio Visual Media services Directive, to protect children from unwanted intrusions, inappropriate content and minimise the risk of grooming.”

She adds: “On Safer Internet Day we hope that regulators globally recognise the role of privacy-preserving age-assurance approaches to safeguard children. Collaboration across industry partners and with regulators is crucial.”

With the UK’s flourishing Safety Tech sector providing a stream of innovative technologies, individual parts of the Online Harms landscape are being addressed. Ian Stevenson concludes: “Tech giants need to be encouraged to work with tech providers to make their platforms safer by design. We will continue engaging with the Government and with Ofcom to help inform them of the “art of the possible” so that regulation can set the right balance between realism and optimism. We are ready and here to help.”