November 16, 2012 Linnette Attai

This week I had the pleasure of attending the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) Conference in Washington, D.C. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation auditorium provided the backdrop for the conference, which carried the headline, “A Safer Internet for All.” For PlayWell friends, I’m recapping some of my conference highlights here.

The conference aimed to cover “all aspects of online safety, privacy, digital citizenship and connectivity.” In this quickly-evolving world of digital and mobile media, there is much to be learned, understood and shared in the realm of privacy and safety. How do we keep children safe on the Internet? What are the best ways to embrace technology in the classroom? What do parents need to know about their child’s use of technology? What are their biggest concerns? What is the role of regulation versus self-regulation? How can governments better coordinate privacy enforcement on the global front? And more.

In order to come up with the best solutions, it’s important to hear a variety of perspectives on the issues. One of the advantages of working with FOSI is that they embrace such a broad ecosystem of stakeholders in the children’s media and marketing industries. The conference brought together a diverse audience of academics, researchers, educators, government agencies, parents, children and businesses from all sectors of the industry and the globe.

For friends of PlayWell, I wanted to share a few of the interesting highlights from the conference. This is by no means exhaustive – just a few pearls that I found along the way:

New Research:
Abigail Davenport from Hart Research Associates walked us through some new FOSI research on “The Online Generation Gap: Contrasting Attitudes and Behaviors of Parents and Teens.” Some highlights:
• There is a 45 point gap between parents’ and teens’ perception of parents’ monitoring on digital and cell use.
• 91% of parents surveyed feel very well informed or somewhat informed about their teenager’s online and cell phone use, but only 62% of teens agree with that assessment.
• There is a “notable” gap in perception of how well informed parents are about what their child does online.
• There is some comfort with safety and appropriateness of content on the Internet. However, in the areas of concern, privacy and safety remain at the top of the list, and perhaps with good reason:
o Nearly half of teens say they have friended or chatted online with someone they don’t know personally.
o Half have shared at least some PII with someone they don’t know.
o Thankfully, only a small percentage of teens have arranged to meet with someone in person, but in PlayWell’s book, a small percentage is still too high.

Towards a Better Internet for Children:
Sonia Livingston from the London School of Economics presented research from EU Kids Online entitled, “Towards a Better Internet for Children,” which reflected on the value of the EUs CEO Coalition recommendations for industry. The presentation focused on examining the gap and the balance between maximizing online opportunities for children and minimizing the harm. It’s a subject that everyone in the industry struggles with as we aim to try tip the scales in the right direction.

Some general solutions that industry can try to tackle include:
• Development of simple and robust reporting tools:
o It seems that when children use reporting tools, most do feel that they are helpful. However, only a minority of children use the tools when they’re upset by something that they see online. This may be the result of the tools being too complicated for children to use. Making the tools easy to find and easy to manage could prove to be quite helpful.

• Use of age-appropriate privacy settings:
o Children seem to have a handle on using basic privacy settings, but when we make them complicated, building in specific controls for specific features, it can be tricky for young children to navigate. And unfortunately, it is the most vulnerable, at-risk child who is more likely to have a public profile. Keeping privacy settings simple and broad would be a good place for the industry to start.

• Wider use of content classifications:
o 14% of 9-14 year olds have seen sexual images on websites, and 21% of 11-16 year olds have seen “harmful user-generated content” (e.g., hate sites, pro-anorexia sites, self-harm sites, etc.). Help children avoid inappropriate content by rating accurately and using available technologies to keep mature content in its proper place.

Doing Good:
A Platform for Good:
The name says it all. This FOSI initiative is intended to educate and help parents, teachers and teens better understand technology, and to connect and share safely online. The site is updated regularly, so check back often for more helpful tools.

Do Something:
I would find it hard to believe that anyone in the audience who heard Nancy Lubell speak didn’t end up wanting to join Do Something in some capacity. If you haven’t already taken a look at this organization and the amazing work they’re doing harnessing the power of teenagers to impact social change, you’re missing out!

Another highlight for me was listening to Tammy Wincup. The COO of Everfi talked about how to best educate children on digital citizenship, and – continuing on the theme started by Sonia Livingston – striking the balance between risk and reward when it comes to Internet use. Her message: Educate, but don’t scare children about privacy and safety. Keep the conversation about the positive benefits and uses of education technology aligned with a discussion of how to stay safe and be a savvy digital consumer. When we weave the rules about digital citizenship into the conversation about the benefits and wonders of technology, we’re more likely to help children feel confident about the tools and inspired to create, while keeping them safe.

There was much, much more, and I couldn’t possibly capture it all here and give it it’s proper due. Check out or #FOSI2012 for more information and experiences from the conference.