Tue. Sep 27th, 2022
Brussels, 11 May 2022

Today, the Commission has adopted a new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids (BIK+), to improve age-appropriate digital services and to ensure that every child is protected, empowered and respected online.

In the past ten years, digital technologies and the way children use them have changed dramatically. Most children use their smartphones daily and almost twice as much compared to ten years ago. They also use them from a much younger age (see EU Kids online 2020). Modern devices bring opportunities and benefits, allowing children to interact with others, learn online and be entertained. But these gains are not without risks, such as the dangers of exposure to disinformation, cyberbullying (see JRC study) or to harmful and illegal content, from which children need to be sheltered.

The new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids aims for accessible, age-appropriate and informative online content and services that are in children’s best interests.

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, said: 

“Every child in Europe deserves to thrive in a safe and empowering digital environment. With the new strategy, we want to support access to digital devices and skills for children, especially those in vulnerable situations, fight cyberbullying, and protect all children from harmful and illegal online content. This is in line with our core values and digital principles.”

Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, said: 

“The new strategy for a Better Internet for Kids will ensure that children enjoy the same rights online and offline, with no child left behind regardless of their geographical, economic and personal background. All children must be protected, empowered and respected online. With this strategy we are also setting high safety standards and are promoting children’s empowerment and active participation in the digital decade across the world.”

Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, said: 

“Europe’s Digital Decade offers great opportunities to children, but technology can also pose risks. With the new strategy for a Better Internet for Kids, we are providing kids with the competences and tools to navigate the digital world safely and confidently. We call upon industry to play its part in creating a safe, age-appropriate digital environment for children in respect of EU rules.”

The new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids is the digital arm of the Commission’s comprehensive EU strategy on the rights of the child and reflects the digital principle ‘Children and young people should be protected and empowered online’.

It has been adopted today together with a proposal for new EU legislation to protect children against sexual abuse.

Moreover, the strategy follows the recent landmark provisional political agreement on the Digital Services Act (DSA), which contains new safeguards for the protection of minors and prohibits online platforms from displaying targeted advertising based on profiling to minors.

These matters were also given prominence in the Conference on the Future of Europe, where the European Citizens Panel dealing with Values and Rights called for increased protection of minors online. This was endorsed up by the Conference Plenary and is included in a Proposal contained in the Final Report of the Conference that was presented to the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission.

Strategy principles and pillars  

The new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids sets out the vision for a Digital Decade for children and youth, based on three key pillars:

  1. Safe digital experiences, protecting children from harmful and illegal online content, conduct, and risks and improving their well-being through a safe, age-appropriate digital environment.

To make the digital world a safe place for children and young people, the Commission will facilitate an EU code for age-appropriate design and request a European standard on online age verification by 2024. It will also explore how to use the planned European Digital Identity wallet for age verification, support the swift reporting of illegal and harmful content and ensure the single harmonised number ‘116 111′ provides assistance to victims of  cyberbullying, by 2023.

  1. Digital empowerment so that children acquire the necessary skills and competences to make informed choices and express themselves in the online environment safely and responsibly.

In view of fostering the empowerment of children in the digital environment, the Commission will organise media literacy campaigns for children, teachers and parents, via the network of Safer Internet Centres, the backbone of the strategy. It will also provide teaching modules for teachers via the betterinternetforkids.eu portal. The network of Safer Internet Centres in Member States, active at national and local level, will strengthen support for children in vulnerable situations and help address the digital divide for skills.

  1. Active participation, respecting children by giving them a say in the digital environment, with more child-led activities to foster innovative and creative safe digital experiences.

To increase children’s participation in the digital environment, the Commission will, for instance, support more experienced children teaching other children about online opportunities and risks, as well as organise a child-led evaluation of the strategy every two years.

To implement these key pillars, the Commission is inviting Member States and the industry to come on board and support related actions.

Background

Today’s strategy builds on the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children adopted in 2012. The latter has influenced national policies across the EU and has been recognised internationally: for instance, the annual Safer Internet Day is celebrated worldwide. Actions aimed at fighting fake news, cyberbullying and exposure to harmful and illegal content are reaching thousands of schools and millions of children, parents and teachers every year.

In March 2021, the Commission adopted its first-ever comprehensive EU strategy on the rights of the child, which called for an update of the 2012 Better Internet for Children strategy.

To this end, more than 750 children and young people shared their thoughts and views on online safety, content and skills in around 70 consultation sessions organised by the Safer Internet Centres across Europe in spring 2021. Surveys and other consultations were also organised with parents, teachers, researchers, national experts in child online safety and industry partners.

The results, which fed into the European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids, show that children and young people often understand well online risks, such as harmful content, cyberbullying or disinformation, and opportunities. They also wish to have their voice heard in matters concerning them. However, many children and young people in Europe, especially those in vulnerable situations, are still not fully included in the digital world. Factors behind this exclusion include poverty, lack of connectivity, lack of suitable devices, and lack of digital skills or confidence.

For More Information

Questions & Answers: European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids

Factsheet: European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids

European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids

Compendium of relevant legislation

European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children of May 2012

Infographic

Poster

 


New European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids – Questions and Answers

Link

Brussels, 11 May 2022

1.   Why are you coming forward with a new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids (BIK+)?

Since the adoption of the first “European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children (BIK) in 2012, digital technologies and the way children use them have changed dramatically. Modern devices allow children to easily interact, contact and share information with others, often without parental supervision. Most children use their smartphones daily and almost twice as much compared to 2012, as well as from a much younger age (EU Kids online 2020).

Digital technologies offer children unprecedented prospects for online education, entertainment, social contact and active participation in society, but this is not without risks, such as exposure to disinformation or harmful and illegal online content. The pandemic further highlighted that not all children have equal and safe access to digital technologies. Also, age verification mechanisms and parental consent tools are still in many cases ineffective, meaning harmful and illegal content can be in easy reach for children. These are just a few examples of how the digital world has transformed, and why an updated strategy for a Better Internet for Kids is needed.

2.   How is the new strategy different from the 2012 one?

A flagship initiative in the European Year of Youth, the new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids (BIK+) will balance protection, for example against age-inappropriate and illegal content, and empowerment with digital skills, as well as foster child participation on digital matters.

Since 2012, EU’s legal and policy framework for child online safety has also significantly evolved. The new Strategy will support implementation of EU legislation on child safety, including the Audio-visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the strengthened provisions on child online safety in the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the newly adopted proposal for new EU legislation to protect children against sexual abuse.

In particular, the new strategy for a Better Internet for Kids will help implement these EU laws through a comprehensive EU code of conduct on age-appropriate design. The code will aim to address for instance the lack of effective age verification, the gathering of personal data and the commercial manipulation of children as well as the need for child-appropriate communication.

The strategy will promote media and digital literacy activities, also for teachers and parents. Specific attention will be paid to vulnerable children, as children can be in diverse and challenging situations, while at the same time many of them do not yet have sufficient access to digital technologies. Peer-to-peer activities are also encouraged, leveraging on the good work of the BIK Youth Ambassadors, a group of young people developing youth participation activities.

3.   What does the Commission want to achieve with the new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids?

Every child in Europe deserves to thrive in a safe digital environment and enjoy their digital rights in full, irrespective of their geographical, economical or personal background. Online content and services should be accessible, age-appropriate and informative, and created in respect of children’s best interests. The vision of the strategy is for all European children to be protected, empowered and respected online, with no one left behind.

4.   How will the Strategy for a Better Internet for Kids work in practice?

In the new strategy, the Commission is committed to specific actions and invites the Member States and industry to join in and take action as well.

The new strategy for a Better Internet for Kids will build on the achievements of the former (2012) strategy, and continue to co-finance the network of Safer Internet Centres in Member States, which together with the EU-funded betterinternetforkids.eu portal will be the backbone for its implementation.

The centres will organise at national and local level media literacy actions, create awareness about risks for children, as consumers of digital products and services, involve children and young people through youth panels and youth ambassadors to share their views on the digital world, promote peer-to-peer training and offer swift reporting of harmful and illegal content via helplines and hotlines.

The Safer Internet Centres in the Member States will also help further children in vulnerable situations to address the digital divide.

In addition, the Commission will continue to coordinate the Member State Expert Group to exchange best practices, and facilitate dialogue between industry, civil society and children, through the Alliance to better protect children online to which around 40 major ICT/media companies belong.

5.   What are the links with the proposal for new EU legislation to protect children against sexual abuse?

The new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids and the proposal for new EU legislation to protect children against sexual abuse are part of a comprehensive package on child online protection and empowerment.

Under the strategy, the Commission will continue to fund the EU network of hotlines to which the public can report anonymously potential child sexual abuse material  encountered online. The reporting of illegal, including child sexual abuse material, and harmful content, will also be supported by Safer Internet Centres’ helplines and hotlines.

The proposal for new EU legislation to protect children against sexual abuse aims to define the responsibilities of providers, obliging them to assess and mitigate the risk of misuse of their services; and where necessary, to detect and report online child sexual abuse and remove child sexual abuse material. A new EU Centre will facilitate the efforts of service providers and act as a hub of expertise on prevention and on supporting victims.

6.   What are the benefits for children and for their digital rights?

Children’s rights are human rights and form part of the founding principles of the European Union. They must be respected online as offline as acknowledged by the General Comment 25 on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in relation to the digital environment, adopted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2021. The EU and all Member States have signed this UN Convention.

The European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for the Digital Decade will guide the digital transformation in the EU. Digital rights include not only the right to be protected online but also the right to be empowered with new skills, opportunities and active participation in society. The right to be respected, to freedom of expression, right to privacy, right to education, leisure and play, right to information, they all apply online as offline.

7.   What is the link with the Rights of the Child strategy?

In March 2021, the Commission adopted its first comprehensive strategy on the Rights of the Child (‘RoC Strategy’). This strategy calls for an EU where children can navigate the digital environment and harness its opportunities, without being harmed or placed at risk. The majority (63%) of respondents to the open consultation on the Rights of the Child Strategy acknowledged the need for a new strategy for a Better Internet for Kids. As the digital arm of the Rights of the Child strategy, the new strategy for a Better Internet for Kids replies to this call.

8.   How will children be involved in the new strategy?

Children and young people have been part of the new strategy from the very beginning. For instance, around 70 consultations with over 750 children and young people were organised all over Europe in spring and summer 2021.

The strategy proposes several actions where children will play an active role. The EU wants to involve children in the creation of the EU code of conduct on age-appropriate design by 2024; to set up a child-led initiative for promoting digital citizenship through the EU Children’s Participation Platform; and to support peer-to-peer training to promote online opportunities and tackle risks through the Safer Internet Centres.

Under the new strategy, BIK Youth Ambassadors – young people working together with the Commission to implement the strategy – will continue to inform and advise the Commission, industry and other partners in events and activities. In addition, a child-led evaluation of the new strategy will be organised every two years.

9.    How does the strategy address the digital divide?

To benefit from digital opportunities, children need a reliable internet connection, affordable data, suitable digital devices, and digital skills. The connectivity targets of the Digital Compass Communication – a vision for a successful digital transformation of Europe by 2030, the Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles and significant EU investment and funding, all address connectivity for homes and schools.

The European Child Guarantee recommends Member States to ‘provide […] adequate equipment necessary for distance learning’ [and] ‘make the necessary investment to tackle all forms of digital divide’.

Children with special or specific needs or from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds need special attention. Digital deprivation in childhood can reinforce the digital divide in adult life.

The new strategy will contribute by strengthening the support offered to children in vulnerable situations by the Safer Internet Centres in Member States, particularly through teaching safety skills.  Media literacy campaigns targeting children, teachers and parents will also be organised.

10. Will the measures be legally binding for Member States?

The strategy is not legally binding but it invites Member States to be actively involved and to take certain actions. It supports implementation of EU legislation and therefore can be a useful tool for Member States. It also facilitates and supports the exchange of good practices among Member States, for example on digital literacy and child participation by giving them a say in the digital environment.

11. What will be the role of industry?

Industry has a key responsibility and role to play in ensuring safe and age-appropriate digital experiences and services for children and young people.

The Commission will invite industry to participate in a comprehensive EU code of conduct on age-appropriate design by 2024, a co-regulatory initiative under the Digital Services Act, involving policymakers, civil society and children. The code will address in an agile way a broad range of risks to children, providing good practices and guidance to industry to fulfil the obligations set by EU law. It will aim to address, for instance, the lack of effective age verification, the gathering of personal data and the commercial manipulation of children, the need of child-appropriate communication, and safety by design and by default.

As this code will help clarify expectations for industry, the Commission will encourage companies to participate in its development and sign it by 2024. Once signed, the companies will have certain obligations to meet and their progress will be regularly monitored and evaluated.

In addition, the Commission invites industry to actively involve children when developing and deploying digital products and services.

12. How will the new strategy address age verification?

Easy access to inappropriate content (e.g. on self-harm, pornography, eating disorders, risky online challenges) is one of the main concerns identified by both children and parents contacting the EU network of Safer Internet Centres and consulted for the new Strategy.

EU laws – in particular the Audio-visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – are in place and technical solutions to verify age exist. Nevertheless, in practice age-verification mechanisms are mostly ineffective, and users often only need to enter any birth date or tick a box to register.

Under the strategy for a Better Internet for Kids, the Commission will work towards a European standard on age verification. This type of standard will clarify what is expected from industry when age verification is required on any online tools and services. Such recognised methods would be used by pornography websites, for example, to ensure their users are aged 18 or over.

In parallel, Commission will explore how to use the planned European Digital Identity wallet for age verification. The Commission will work with Member States and encourage them to issue electronic IDs to minors under the age of 18, to strengthen effective age verification methods. This would lead to an EU-wide recognised ‘under / over age X’ proof of age based on date of birth in a privacy-preserving and secure manner.

13. Does the Strategy apply outside of the EU?

This is a European strategy, but joining forces with international partners allows us to address harmful and illegal content effectively and efficiently, as these global digital issues know no border.

The Commission will continue to share experiences, expertise and values with relevant international organisations and partners, and to support a common approach towards digital safety for children worldwide, for example encouraging relevant technical standards, metrics, definitions and approaches, and  continue to protect and promote child rights online everywhere, fulfilling the rights of all children.

The impact of the 2012 ‘European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children’ has already gone beyond the borders of Europe and for instance the annual Safer Internet Day – originally an EU action – is now celebrated worldwide, and the annual conference Safer Internet Forum welcomes participants from outside Europe. This will continue under the new strategy for a Better Internet for Kids.

14. What concrete actions are expected in the medium term?

Under the Digital Europe Programme, the EU will continue to co-fund the network of Safer Internet Centres in Member States and the betterinternetforkids.eu platform, which is the pan-European hub for child online safety with resources and material in all EU languages.

The Commission is also committed to initiate, or continue, a range of actions in 2022, which marks the European Year of Youth:

  • Organise media literacy campaigns targeting children, teachers and parents mobilising multipliers.
  • Facilitate the exchange of good practices for national curricula on media literacy between Member States and amongst schools and educators across the EU.
  • Strengthen the support offered to children in vulnerable situations by the Safer Internet Centres in Member States to address the digital divide.
  • Develop awareness raising tools and activities for children as young consumers with the support of the Safer Internet Centres and the betterinternetforkids.eu platform.
  • Expand the role of BIK Youth Ambassadors and BIK Youth Panels – young people working with the Commission to implement the strategy – to support peer-to-peer activities at national and local level.
  • Start mapping the existing research on the neurologic impact on children of methods used for commercial purposes.

The Commission also commits to:

  • Encourage and facilitate the design of a comprehensive EU code of conduct on age-appropriate design under the Digital Services Act, by 2024;
  • Issue a standardisation request for a European standard on age assurance / age verification compatible with the proposal for a European Digital Identity Regulation (eID proposal), by 2024;
  • Support the development of an EU-wide recognised proof of age based on date of birth within the eID initiative;
  • Ensure the single harmonised number ‘116 111′ offers assistance to victims on cyberbullying, in cooperation with the EU co-funded Safer Internet Centre helplines, by 2023.
15. How will the Commission monitor implementation and progress in Member States?

Similarly to the 2012 European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children, the progress in Member States will be monitored through the ‘BIK map tool‘, which collects, compares and exchanges information on the implementation of the strategy for a Better Internet for Kids in the Member States. The new strategy will be monitored every two years and a report will be published online.

For More Information

Press release: New EU strategy to protect and empower children in the online world

Factsheet: European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids

European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids

Compendium of relevant legislation

European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children of May 2012

Infographic

Poster