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Europeans want more protection on the internet for their children

Euromonitor's recent study (PDF-Download) indicates a consensus among the European population: the Internet should be a safer place for children. New EU regulations could help achieve this goal.

Europe has unfortunately become a hub for activities endangering children, with nearly 90 percent of websites hosting content related to child sexual abuse and violence against children situated on European servers. The current legislative initiative by the EU aims to curb the dissemination of pedophilic online content, with one of the potential new measure being the possibility to scan private conversations of suspected individuals.

But some, particularly data protection advocates, condemn that measure as it would interfere with end-to-end digital encryption, deeming it an unacceptable intrusion into privacy.

There is a sense of urgency to reach an agreement. If the proposed law is not enacted by August 2024, the temporary rules currently in place from the EU will no longer be valid. In practical terms, this would imply that even if someone discovered criminal content through a voluntary private effort, it could be considered illegal once the interim regulation expires.

Population sees an acute need for action on child protection online

The European population is aware that there is an acute need for action on the legal side. An analysis by Euromonitor in July concluded that 92 percent of respondents believe that children are exposed to ever greater risks on the internet and 73 percent consider the sexual abuse of children to be a widespread problem within Europe. 82 percent of respondents agreed that parental control of children's Internet use is not enough to prevent the dangers of Internet communication.

In this context, 87 percent of those interviewed were in favour of detecting child sexual abuse by initiating contact via email and chat. 83 percent agreed with detection via the monitoring of encrypted messages.

Article 34 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees the protection of children and young people from sexual abuse. The EU legislative initiative launched last year aims to prevent the distribution of online content as well as the initiation of contact between pedophiles and minors via the internet.

Hosting providers and social media platforms should set up digital safe spaces

The basis for the prevention and protection concepts is the risk analysis that hosting providers and social media platforms have been asked to carry out. Based on the risk analyses, digital safe spaces are to be set up under the keyword "safety by design", which blocks the distribution of content and prevents cyber grooming.

Whatever the EU law ultimately looks like: To create digital safe spaces for children, there will be no arbitrary and undefined scanning of private communications and images and videos sent on end devices. Underage internet users themselves reject measures that encroach on their privacy. Surveys have shown that 80 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds in Germany do not want chat controls. However, host providers and platform operators must fulfill risk minimisation obligations.

Reliable age verification of Internet users is an important step towards minimising the potential dangers for minors. In the USA, discussions are already further advanced. The California Age-Appropriare Design Code Act is due to come into force in California in 2024. This obliges online platforms to install security restrictions for users under the age of 18.

This article is from the 1/2024 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.