eSafety Commissioner rejects industry draft online safety codes

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Sydney, Australia – The proposed Codes, drafted by industry, were deeply problematic. The Codes offered Australian children less protection than they currently have and undermined Australia’s global position in providing safety for our children online. If implemented, the Codes would have left young people in Australia with less protection than European or Californian children as a consequence.

The Taskforce is pleased that the draft Codes are not being registered. The eSafety Commissioner has realised another opportunity to raise safety standards for children.

ChildFund CEO Margaret Sheehan reflected on today’s decision.

“Sending these Codes back to the tech industry sends a strong message. In Australia we will not accept less for children,” she said.

“It is of fundamental importance to the safety of children and young people that the eSafety Commissioner prevents the potential for serious harm to children.”

Drafting comprehensive online codes that meet community safety standards is a task that requires the full cooperation of the Australian Government, of the tech industry and civil society.”

“Australia’s new online safety codes must ensure children are not exposed to the risk of abuse and online exploitation which can have negative lifelong impacts,” said Doctor Katrina Lines, Act for Kids CEO.

“Any steps that can be taken to safeguard Australian children online should be a priority.”

Rys Farthing from Reset Tech said, “Today’s announcement from the eSafety Commissioner is welcomed. This demonstrates a commitment to putting the rights and safety of Australian children first, and Australia’s commitment to stand up to Big Tech. For too long, they’ve put profit before kids and it’s time this stopped”.

The Taskforce would welcome opportunities for further consultation during this next stage of redevelopment. It will be of critical importance that the industry ensures the views and voices of children and young people are reflected in developing the new standards.

When will our regulators step in and end industry self-regulation when it comes to our online privacy? Selfregulation will not protect our privacy and most importantly it will not protect the privacy of our children.

Across 2022, we have seen some world leading examples of poor data management by corporate Australia.

The private sector has been trusted to safeguard our privacy and it’s safe to say they failed. But what did we learn from the experience?

Just last month industry codes designed largely by big tech were submitted to the eSafety Commissioner for consideration.

These codes are required to protect the safety of our children online.

They will not succeed.

Some may find it unsurprising that the very same industry that profits from children’s data have chosen to design codes that result in unacceptably lower standards of protection for children in Australia, than protection set in many other jurisdictions around the world.

Australia should be the safest place in the world to go online but it’s not. The UK, Ireland and even in the home of big tech, California, they have put in place regulators to draft codes rather than trusting industry.

The codes drafted in these regions have some clear differences.

When children register for an account overseas, the default setting is ‘Private’ until 18. In Australia, industry has set the age at 16, offering greater opportunities to commercially exploit young people.

In another example, overseas GPS location default settings in under 18 accounts are ‘Must not Collect’. At home the setting is ‘Must not Broadcast’ meaning the collection of historic locations can be collected for those 16 years and under.

The third and perhaps most concerning development in these codes is the attempt by the tech sector to somewhat sidestep mandatory reporting requirements on child sexual exploitation material legislated in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

The question here is why should our community hold big tech to a lower standard than small businesses, clubs and childcare centres?

Furthermore, Australians don’t believe that the new industry codes pass the pub test. YouGov polling found that 71 per cent of Australian adults did not trust the social media industry to draft codes.

And 73 per cent said they would prefer regulators to draft codes around children’s online safety.

We are calling on the Albanese Government and the eSafety Commissioner to take control and protect our children. We must question the self-interest of the private sector. The future of Australia’s youth is at stake.

Margaret Sheehan is CEO of ChildFund Australia

Daily Telegraph, Sydney 14/12/2022