Euro Mobile Phone Firms Pledge to Support Children’s Safety

As part of Safer Internet Day, which is being celebrated Tuesday in 40 countries around the world, a group of more than a dozen European mobile phone companies joined together in Brussels, Belgium, to sign an agreement to help make mobile phones safer for children.

By signing the European Framework on Safer Mobile Use by Younger Teenagers and Children, the mobile phone companies agreed to support access control for adult content, awareness-raising campaigns for parents and children, the classification of commercial content according to national standards of decency and appropriateness, and the fight against illegal content on mobile phones.

The agreement, brokered by the European Commission, calls on the companies to develop national self-regulatory codes by February 2008. The commission will assess the results after 12 months.

Responsible Regulation

“This agreement is an important step forward for child safety,” said Viviane Reding, the EC commissioner responsible for telecommunications and media. “I congratulate the mobile phone industry for moving towards protecting minors. It shows that responsible self-regulation can work at the European level.”

The mobile phone companies involved are Bouygues Telecom, Cosmote, Debitel Deutsche Telekom Group, Go Mobile, Hutchison 3G Europe, Jamba!, Mobile Entertainment Forum, Orange Group, Royal KPN, SFR, Telecom Italia, Telefonica Moviles, Telenor, TeliaSonera and Vodafone.

“The Framework is setting ambitious principles for the EU-wide (European Union) mobile industry,” said Kenneth Karlberg, president of Stockholm, Sweden-based TeliaSonera Mobility Services. “We are pleased to be part of an industry that takes actions in this field. By signing this Framework, we increase our efforts to create a safer environment for children using mobile phones.”

Thwarting Threats

The Framework on Safer Mobile Use was developed in response to a European Commission study on child safety and mobile phones, the results of which were published Tuesday. Threats to children via mobile phone include bullying, sexual grooming for abuse, access to pornographic and violent content, and privacy risks, particularly due to the inappropriate use of camera phones and location services, according to the study.

The fourth annual Safer Internet Day was organized by European Schoolnet, which coordinates Insafe, the European safer Internet network. Reding is patron of the event, which is being celebrated in the United States and around the globe. The event’s highlight is an international blogathon, in which more than 200 schools in 25 countries have been working in pairs to create Internet safety awareness materials.

“It used to be that our No. 1 rule for parents was, don’t put a computer in your children’s bedroom,” Jeff Godlis, director of communications for i-SAFE, the U.S. node of the Insafe network, told TechNewsWorld. “Now, with mobile devices, they can be on the Internet anywhere.”

Focus on Awareness

Children around the world face many of the same safety issues on the Internet, Godlis added. “There are similar solutions throughout the world, and a big part is education and awareness.”

“The Internet is full of some pretty dark corners,” wireless analyst Neil Strother told TechNewsWorld. “There’s a true responsibility for carriers to make mobile Internet as safe as they can. This type of initiative is likely to blossom here in the U.S. in its own way.”

Indeed, because cellular phone penetration in Europe is much higher than it is in the United States, it’s not entirely surprising that an initiative like this would emerge in Europe first, noted Chris Ambrosio, wireless practice director for Strategy Analytics.

Is the US Next?

While some U.S. firms have added location-based safety features to their services, European mobile companies have been more wary of marketing to child users, Ambrosio explained. “They’ve been a little more liberal in trying to be proactive on issues like this,” he told TechNewsWorld, “but as penetration ramps up in the U.S., it will become more of an issue in the next three or four years.”

The bottom line: “Kids can be extremely mean, and now technology becomes an extension of that,” noted Strother. “If companies are trying to bring that awareness to parents, it’s a good thing.”

Of course, rules and regulations can only go so far. When it comes right down to it, Strother questioned, “how do you legislate morality and good behavior?”

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