The daunting challenges for those in the community of concern include the global nature of the Internet and its infrastructure; the steady and accelerating pace of technological change that is constantly reshaping the Internet; and the nature of this communications infrastructure as a global ecology in which the online “virtual” world overlaps the physical “real” world of human beings and their behavior.
By their very nature, solutions and strategies for family online safety frequently are suggested and considered in silos, or pushed to a single level of jurisdiction (e.g., school, community, state) that is effective in addressing just some part of the challenge. Compartmentalized or jurisdictional solutions are especially challenged due to the ubiquitous and global nature of Internet technology and services, which, with few exceptions, respect no geographic boundaries. Just as it has become virtually impossible to fully restrict a child's access to mass media and the Internet, it is also overly optimistic to expect to control elements of the Internet from a single state, city, or town, however well intentioned jurisdictional efforts may be.
The nature of online safety and Internet literacy also transcends the critical and necessary work of law enforcement, to which society has turned to patrol cyberspace and protect cybercitizens in the virtual world just as it does in the physical real world. This conviction is rooted in the knowledge that prevention, punishment, and justice address only some of the manifestations of the new Internet society. Voluntary efforts by industry and all stakeholders in the Internet ecosystem are vitally necessary, to build a safe foundation for activities in cyberspace, promote education and awareness about online safety issues, and encourage collaborative activity within the community of concern.This commitment to voluntary efforts gave rise in 2008 to the PointSmart.ClickSafe. blue ribbon task force for best practices in online safety and Internet literacy (See “Task Force Background”). The participants in the task force, formed at the conclusion of a Washington, DC, summit on online safety and Internet literacy in June 2008 (panel findings: Appendix A), are acutely aware of these dynamics and understand that they form the backdrop for any prescription for progress in this field.
The task force is also aware that its many deliberations since its June 2008 inception haven't occurred in a vacuum, and that in fact major work in many quarters, bearing concrete and positive results, has moved the needle and raised the bar for those seeking to provide further enhancements to online safety.
In addition to these kinds of large-scale and collaborative efforts, many consumer, civic, and law enforcement groups have initiated measures to address online safety issues and increase public awareness and education. Among these efforts:
Even those objectives are challenging for a single group of stakeholders gathered during a finite period of time. The PointSmart group - comprising representatives of network and infrastructure operators, Internet service providers, content companies, the Internet industry, and concerned groups of educators, public health officials, parents, and families - therefore asked itself what its contribution could be to improving the state of online safety and Internet literacy.
The task force first recognizes that the responsibility for children's online safety is equally shared across a wide ecosystem of interlocking and overlapping groups. Parents, teachers, child advocates, health professionals, providers of Internet access and content, law enforcement officials, and other concerned citizens all have a shared responsibility to ensure that a child's use of digital technology, and particularly the Internet, is as safe and enriching an experience as we can make it. Furthermore, the task force recognizes that each of these groups must act on its responsibility - all parts of the ecosystem must act in harmony - so a good outcome for Internet safety can be achieved.
With this in mind, and based on the state of play and the very nature of Internet infrastructure and services, the group has chosen to focus on the role and accountability of industry in ensuring online safety and Internet literacy. To be sure, many companies in the Internet industry already have substantive practices in place including providing parents with technology-based tools, resources and information. Examples of these current approaches to best practices can be found in Appendix C of this report. The task force in its work builds on these approaches and, taking into account the perspectives of other stakeholders concerned with children's online safety, recommends a wide-ranging series of best practices that can be adopted, implemented, and emulated by the various companies that comprise the Internet industry. These voluntary measures are suggested as a way of raising standards for all companies engaged in serving Internet users and thus creating a more friendly, safe, and productive online environment for children and families.
Among the many alternatives discussed by task force members, to help families feel safe within a certain website or online environment, was a suggestion that companies aligning themselves with best practice efforts could display an icon on their websites or services, to offer visual evidence of the provider’s involvement in online safety best practices. This suggestion was open to broad and differing interpretations regarding the merits of an icon and how it could be used in a practical and effective manner and, as such, the task force could not reach agreement on recommending the use of such an icon. Nonetheless, the task force was able to reach agreement on a broad set of meaningful recommended best practices which can be adopted and implemented by companies in order to demonstrate and enhance their commitment to users and the public at large, to online safety and digital literacy.The best practice recommendations, which are designed to span all sectors of the Internet industry and which should be applied selectively based on a company's role and mission, should also serve to help achieve better harmony in online safety efforts. And with a commitment to monitor implementation efforts going forward and issue additional suggestions and recommendations as warranted, the PointSmart.ClickSafe. Task Force will continue to strive to unite the many stakeholders in this area to focus on continual enhancements and improvements.
With some members of the PointSmart.ClickSafe. Task Force focused on the nexus between federal policy in this area and business practices, the group also has contemplated the oft-repeated question: What should government do to enhance online safety and Internet literacy?
The federal government currently supports online safety efforts through a variety of programs. They include:
There are also a wide variety of state and local government efforts, such as the Virginia initiative in which the state Department of Education has published “Guidelines and Resources for Internet Safety in Schools.”
One key insight from the work of the task force is that while the issue of online safety - like the Internet itself - spans many audiences, stakeholder groups, and jurisdictions, most Internet safety efforts have been both fragmented and granulized to the local level where there is often a significant lack of coordination and resources. More coordination at the national level supplemented with adequate resource development is needed.
Current and previous Congresses, as well as both the former and current Administration, have focused considerable energy and resources in addressing these issues. As this report is released:
The PointSmart.ClickSafe. Task Force publicly acknowledges the excellent recommendations for government activity released late in 2008 by the Family Online Safety Institute
To further build on these and other initial efforts, the PointSmart.ClickSafe. Task Force recommends that policymakers take other important steps, including:
Elsewhere in this report of the PointSmart.ClickSafe. Task Force, we explore the the “ecosystem” of shared responsibility in online safety; discuss the challenges of managing online risks; examine the limits of public policy as it applies to technological advancement; and offer appendices that cite specific examples of existing best practices as they are employed by several companies; report out on the findings and proceedings of the PointSmart.ClickSafe. Summit on Online Safety and Internet Literacy from June 2008.