Posted: 13 December 2017

A civilised digital world is crucial for children to thrive online

Guest author:

By Tristia Harrison, CEO

Last week I was at the excellent Children’s Global Media Summit in Manchester, which TalkTalk sponsored.

Children’s media has always been important, but there’s never been a more topical moment to be debating the issues.

What children watch and how they watch it is changing faster than ever, creating huge challenges for organisations involved in delivering content.

The internet is at the heart of a lot of that change and today’s children can’t imagine a world without it.

At its best it unlocks a world of knowledge and brings loved ones closer together. But at the summit we heard again how children have very real concerns about the darker side of the internet, from the impact of cyber bullying to inappropriate content.

As a mum, I know that’s a real concern for parents as well.

The challenge for all of us is clear. We need to capture the best of the internet – the incredible innovation and creativity – whilst shielding our children from the worst of it.

So what can we do? 

Firstly, companies have to have a ‘safety first’ approach to product design. For TalkTalk, that means looking at how we deliver children’s content.

This summer we launched a kids’ remote for our TV platform. We worked with 60 children to build a product tailored to their needs. With the flick of a button, children enter a walled TV garden, with parents able to control what content their children can access. Parents can hide inappropriate content and set time limits on viewing.

It’s an example of how industry can put the needs of children first, rather putting the onus on parents alone to protect their families. 

Secondly, all of us have a responsibility to think beyond our own organisations. Whilst companies can make their own products and services safer, there’s a collective job to do in tackling some of the underlying problems. For instance, the big four ISPs – TalkTalk, BT, Sky and Virgin - all offer family friendly content filters. But when we spoke to parents, they told us they didn’t always understand the online risks filters were designed to tackle.

It’s why the ISPs joined together to launch Internet Matters, a not-for-profit child safety organisation designed to help parents protect their families online.

The Royal Foundation Taskforce on Cyberbullying is another example. The Duke of Cambridge has persuaded some of the biggest companies in the world to work together on a common agenda and we’re proud to be a partner.

We must stand ready to put aside our commercial differences and work together to deliver it.

Finally, we have to think creatively about what regulation is required for the digital age.  TalkTalk has long been a proponent of self-regulation when it comes to internet safety.

We’ve been able to launch parental filters, Internet Matters and our TV Kids Zone without Government intervention. We didn’t need to be told to do it. We wanted to do it because it was the right thing to do and our customers expect it. But we have to be honest in admitting that not all companies have been so quick to embrace their responsibilities.

If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up with a two-tier digital economy – with one group of companies putting safety at the core of their mission, and another group failing to offer the basic protections parents rightly expect. We wouldn’t tolerate that for children’s toys and children’s food. We shouldn’t tolerate it for digital safety.

Government is absolutely right to look at whether the rules we have today are appropriate for the challenges of tomorrow and I welcome the consultation on the Internet Safety Green Paper.

I suspect it’s going to make some companies uncomfortable. But that’s the point. We need all companies to step up to the challenge.

That’s the very least the young people we heard from at the summit deserve.