Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Berkman Center Task Force Reports on Child Safety

The Berkman Center's Internet Safety Technical Task Force has released its final report today. From the Executive Summary:
Many youth in the United States have fully integrated the Internet into their daily lives.
For them, the Internet is a positive and powerful space for socializing, learning, and engaging in
public life. Along with the positive aspects of Internet use come risks to safety, including the
dangers of sexual solicitation, online harassment, and bullying, and exposure to problematic and
illegal content. The Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking, comprising 50 state
Attorneys General, asked this Task Force to determine the extent to which today’s technologies
could help to address these online safety risks, with a primary focus on social network sites in the
United States.

Due to the nature of the Task Force, this Report is not a consensus document, and should be read
in conjunction with the separate Statements from Task Force members included in the appendix.
At the outset, the Task Force recognized that we could not determine how technologies
can help promote online safety for minors without first establishing a clear understanding of the
actual risks that minors face, based on an examination of the most rigorously conducted research.
The Task Force asked a Research Advisory Board comprising leading researchers in the field to
conduct a comprehensive review of relevant work in the United States to date. The Literature
Review shows that the risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most
cases not significantly different than those they face offline, and that as they get older, minors
themselves contribute to some of the problems...

The Task Force asked a Technology Advisory Board (TAB) comprising technology
experts from a range of backgrounds to solicit and review submissions from vendors and others
offering currently available technologies. The TAB received 40 written submissions representing
several categories of technologies, including age verification and identity authentication, filtering
and auditing, text analysis, and biometrics. In sum, the TAB’s review of the submitted
technologies leaves the TAB in a state of cautious optimism, with many submissions showing
substantial promise. The youth online safety industry is evolving. Many of the technologies
reviewed were point solutions rather than broad attempts to address the safety of minors online
as a whole. There is, however, a great deal of innovation in this arena as well as passionate
commitment to finding workable, reasonable solutions from companies both large and small. The
TAB emerged from its review process encouraged by the creativity and productivity apparent in
this field.

The TAB and the Task Force note that almost all technologies submitted present privacy
and security issues that should be weighed against any potential benefits. Additionally, because
some technologies carry an economic cost and some require involvement by parents and
teachers, relying on them may not protect society’s most vulnerable minors.

The Task Force makes specific recommendations in Part VII to
the Internet community and to parents, as well as recommendations regarding the allocation of
• Members of the Internet community should continue to work with child safety experts,
technologists, public policy advocates, social services, and law enforcement to: develop
and incorporate a range of technologies as part of their strategy to protect minors from
harm online...Careful consideration should
be given to what the data show about the actual risks to minors’ safety online and how best
to address them, to constitutional rights, and to privacy and security concerns.
• To complement the use of technology, greater resources should be allocated: to schools,
libraries, and other community organizations to assist them in adopting risk management
policies and in providing education about online safety issues; to law enforcement for
training and developing technology tools, and to enhance community policing efforts
around youth online safety; and to social services and mental health professionals who
focus on minors and their families, so that they can extend their expertise to online spaces
and work with law enforcement and the Internet community to develop a unified approach
for identifying at-risk youth and intervening before risky behavior results in danger.
Greater resources also should be allocated for ongoing research into the precise nature of
online risks to minors, and how these risks shift over time and are (or are not) mitigated by
• Parents and caregivers should: educate themselves about the Internet and the ways in which
their children use it... be engaged and involved in their children’s Internet use;

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