By Dr Rachel O'Connell
In a blog post entitled Beware of the Internet Safety Industrial Complex Larry Magid, highlighted the factions that have emerged in the Internet safety world.
On one side is the ‘Internet Safety Industrial Complex’ faction that includes representatives of companies that sell internet safety technologies, i.e. Internet filtering, monitoring and age verification technologies. Members of this faction also include internet safety experts who promote the idea that internet safety technologies, along with education and parental engagement are key factors in mitigating the risks to children and young peoples’ well-being online. Larry Magid urges readers to ‘beware’ because he alleges the ‘Internet Safety Industrial Complex’ faction exaggerates the nature, scale and extent of online risks to children and young peoples’ well-being online.
The other faction, of whom Larry Magid is one of the key figures, is the ‘Anti-Media Panic’ faction, relies on selective pieces of research, which serve to substantiate their position. The central tenets of the Anti-Media Panic faction is that the majority of children are not at risk online, and, in fact any perceived risk has its genesis in ill-informed media hype generated to a large degree by the Internet Safety Industrial Complex faction.
When and why did these factions emerge and what effect is it having?
Let’s start with the Anti-Media Panic faction, who, for more than five years, has been talking about the media coverage of online child safety issues and describing it in terms of “media panic”. This narrative can be traced back to the mid 2000’s, but it really coalesced in 2008, in the aftermath of the publication of a report by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force (ISTTF). The ISTTF was a multi-stakeholder Task Force convened in response to a request by the US Attorney Generals to explore whether or not the age verification solutions available on the market at that time were fit for purpose, i.e. could provide the global internet industry with scalable, commercially viable, proportionate, low-cost, privacy preserving, age verification methods that would augment the safety of children online.
The Task Force was comprised of representatives from industry, law enforcement, child safety advocates and technical experts and it met several times over a one-year period. The meetings were convened and hosted by the Berkman Institute at Harvard University. The circumstances that prompted the US Attorney Generals to ask for this Task Force to be convened were that Myspace – remember them? – had used the Sentinel solution to scrub their database of users against a data set of known sex offenders. MySpace found approximately 40,000 sexual offenders and there were some procedural delays in handing over this information to the appropriate authorities. The Attorney Generals were not happy about this situation and felt that industry could be called upon to do more to protect vulnerable children and young people online and so the ISTTF was convened.