Regulations to Protect Children’s Safety and Privacy Needed Now More than Ever

For children growing up in Canada today, the divide between their online world and their offline one is narrower than it has ever been. According to a study by Common Sense Media, between 2015 and 2019, the share of children who watched videos online doubled as did the amount of time they spent watching. CSA Group’s latest research report, Children’s Safety and Privacy in the Digital Age, which was released today, concludes that with no enforceable standards in place, children are at high risk in their online experiences and interactions.

Policies and standards for online safety have not kept pace with the rapid evolution of technology, which is playing a central role in learning and socializing for children and youth. The wave of internet regulation in the late 1990s and early 2000s did not envision the implications of an “always on, always connected” lifestyle, nor did it anticipate the implications of digital technologies on children. Today, the only safeguard seems to be a simple checkbox to indicate whether a visitor to a website is over 13 years old.

“Today, the world is witnessing the first generation to grow up with smartphones, tablets, and connected devices constantly present in their lives”, said Mary Cianchetti, President of Standards at CSA Group. “As standards development organizations, industry, and other stakeholders develop new solutions address growing concerns about the digital age, such as privacy and cybersecurity, it is important that these solutions are coordinated and aligned.”

The three main areas of risk to the online well-being of young people are: privacy and data security, unsafe online interactions, and unsafe or inappropriate content. Online content and screen time are among the top concerns Canadian parents have about Internet safety. Canada’s 20-year-old consumer privacy regime may need a long-overdue overhaul to respond to the realities of the digital age.

Online interaction safety risks can take several forms, including sexual exploitation; harassment, cyberbullying, and hate speech; and radicalization and extremist recruiting. Some responses to these risks, including criminal law reform, are focused on specific online challenges such as privacy and security. Others, like age appropriate design guidelines, look more generally at ways to build a safer online experience.

Standards to create spaces and experiences that are safe for children are as important
online as they are offline. To keep children safe online, Criminal Code updates, law reform and standards could help address the risks that can lead children to be physically and emotionally harmed, including by cyberbullying, grooming and radicalization.

“As children spend more time online, they can have potentially more exposure to invasive unsafe interactions with long term effects, especially in relation to cyberbullying,” said Wendy Craig, Scientific Director at PREVNet, a national network of leading researchers and organizations working together to stop bullying in Canada. “The responsibility regarding cyberbullying lives with provincial governments. Some provinces have amended legislation to define cyberbullying, but safety standards need to be developed across Canada to help ensure the safety of all children online.”

For more information on the Children’s Safety and Privacy in the Digital Age research report, please click here.


May 5, 2020