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Event recap: Online safety and privacy forum

Online safety and privacy is a growing area of concern and interest, especially when it comes to children. With an average of 18 hours per week online, 99% of young people are connected to the internet.

On Friday 8 March 2019, the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) hosted a public forum on the topic of Online safety and privacy. The discussion explored what online safety means, the developing risks, and what can be done about them.

The forum was moderated by Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel, with guest speakers Dr Julia Fossi and Gail Collins.

Dr Julia Fossi is an Expert Advisor at the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. She provides high level policy support and advice and is the project lead for the eSafety Commissioner’s Safety by Design framework.

Gail Collins is a Senior Service Delivery Manager at IT service provider Datacom. She is also a volunteer presenter for ThinkUKnow, delivering cyber safety presentations for carers, parents, teachers, and young people.

The discussion started by exploring the threats to online safety and who is most vulnerable. Julia stated that new technologies such as machine learning, virtual reality, and the internet of things pose new risks to online safety and privacy.

The responsibility for online safety rests in the hands of many people, including users, parents, educators, designers, developers, regulators, and legislators. Julia focused on the importance of developers and designers incorporating safety, privacy, and security by design, when creating online platforms. Gail added that hacking and scamming has turned into a highly profitable industry, for both the hackers and the people trying to stop them.

Sven brought up the limitations of relying on legislation, how it is slow and reactive. Gail and Julia agreed that it is important to educate children and to teach critical thinking when they are young and receptive, without relying on the law to provide protection.

During the Q&A, an audience member asked about how they can supervise their children’s use of technology when they can’t be present 24/7. Gail pointed out that there are many technological solutions that enable you to filter content through your internet service provider and on devices. You can restrict the time that your children can use the internet and receive reports on their usage.

Julia noted that a good idea is to create a family contract, for example, you all agree that there are no phones at the dinner table. Often children are influenced by the behaviours of their parents. She also added that the amount of time children spend online isn’t necessarily the main problem – what they are doing online matters more.

Another question from the audience was about how to deal with the fact that most people do not read terms and conditions or privacy policies. Gail said that a good resource is the website Terms of Service; Didn’t Read (TOSDR). TOSDR provides summaries of terms and conditions, privacy policies, user agreements, and other similar documents, and outlines the key points in plain English. It also provides an overall class rating from A to E, where a class A rating indicates the policy is fair, respectful, and will not abuse your data. A class E rating indicates that there are very serious concerns that you should be aware of before clicking the “I accept” button.

Sven closed the forum by asking Gail and Julia what they would like to see from legislators or regulators in this space, and what would they like to see from individuals in terms of their choices and behaviours online. Gail responded that she would like to see good password practices from individuals. Julia said that a principle-based approach from legislators and regulators is much better than a prescriptive one. For individuals, risks and harms online are, in large part, behavioural not technological issues. It should be everyone’s responsibility to educate themselves and others on privacy and online safety.

OVIC would like to extend its thanks to Gail and Julia for their participation in the forum, and to those who attended the event.

A full recording of the forum is available on the OVIC Periscope channel.

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