eSafety launches 'Safety by Design' principles

Initiative “shifts responsibility for safety back onto technology organisations themselves” says eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner – the federal government agency tasked with promoting online safety – has published a set of principles to help online and digital service providers embed user safety into their products.

The Safety by Design Principles document provides “practical, realistic and achievable guidance” for providers of all sizes and maturity, the office says, around “incorporating, enhancing and assessing user safety considerations throughout the design, development and deployment phases”.

“We know only too well how the online road is fraught with dark, hairpin turns and how navigating its pitfalls can be perilous — from cyberbullying and image-based abuse to illegal content, trolling, unwanted contact by strangers and social engineering scams,” said eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.

“The challenge is that too often steps are taken to address risks and harms after the damage has been done, and that safety standards have not been built into the online services that we use each and every day,” she added.

The initiative, Inman Grant said, “shifts responsibility for safety back onto technology organisations themselves”.

There are three “over-arching high-level principles” covering service provider responsibilities, user empowerment and autonomy, and transparency and accountability.

Within them, more practical steps for providers are offered, such as nominating individuals to be accountable for user safety policies and implementation; establishing clear escalation paths for user concerns; and implementing in processes to detect, flag and remove illegal and harmful content.

Providers are also urged to provide tools for users to manage their privacy; establish protocols for service violations; and make policies visible, updated and easy to understand. The principles recommend companies publish an annual assessment of reported abuses that include the effectiveness of moderation efforts.

Safety by Design Principles features examples of good practice, which includes actions taken by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Lego, Ubisoft, Tumblr, PopJam and Yubo.

Pre-emptive approach

The principles follow an eight month consultation process with industry, parents and carers and young people.

The majority of young people agreed that safety was a shared responsibility between themselves, parents, schools, government and law enforcement, but believed online service providers had a duty to keep their young users safe online.

They called on online platforms to offer greater control and clearer rules, safety tools and content filters as well as consequences for rule violators.

Many parents, meanwhile, said technology companies needed to do more to build in safety features to their platforms. Many parent and carers admitting not being aware of and not being able to use existing features.

A second phase of the Safety by Design effort will see the release of guidance and resources to assist industry to action the principles. The office will also collaborate with equivalent agencies in other countries to “develop a shared and consistent global pathway” around online safety.

“It is our belief that this proactive and pre-emptive approach will achieve greater impact and have greater resonance with industry than regulation alone could ever achieve,” Inman Grant said.

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