Child safety online

Our industry-leading initiatives such as our Digital Parenting Magazine provide advice and tools for parents to help young people use mobile and internet services safely

Child safety online

Vodafone’s industry-leading initiatives are helping parents and children to improve their digital skills and explore the internet safely.

Children and teenagers are using mobile technology and the internet more than ever before. In the UK, nearly two-thirds of 11-year-olds have a mobile phone of some kind, of which the majority are smartphones1. Children can use this technology to socialise, play and learn online. But greater access to the internet also brings increased exposure to online threats such as cyber bullying and inappropriate content.

Many parents need support to help their children stay safe online, particularly as children often have a better understanding of new technologies than they do. Children also need to know what to do if they are being bullied online and recognise the potential risks of chatting to strangers or giving out their personal information when using social networking sites.

We provide online resources and guidance to help parents, teachers and children understand digital technology. Once they are online, we offer a range of tools to help parents protect their children from unwanted contact and content.

As we expand our services to provide fixed-line internet, cable TV and IPTV, we continue to review and update our resources and tools to ensure they are appropriate for these new services.

Promoting a common industry approach

Network operators such as Vodafone provide customers with a means of connecting to the internet to view content in a web browser, or to access content and services via apps on their devices. While we can control the content made available within the small number of apps we have created ourselves, the vast majority of the content and services accessible via our network is not created, hosted or controlled by Vodafone in any way.

Smartphones and tablets can access online content and services via a variety of different types of provider, including the 3G and 4G networks operated by Vodafone and our competitors, public WiFi networks and ADSL or cable networks via private WiFi networks.

Some device manufacturers maintain their own controls and filters. For example, BlackBerry maintains its own servers to provide customers with access to the internet, Apple offers on-device child protection measures that allow parents to limit their child’s access to certain kinds of content, and third-party app stores operated by BlackBerry, Apple, Google and Microsoft limit access to apps on an age-rating basis. These measures are also beyond Vodafone’s direct control.

Keeping children safe online therefore requires an integrated approach across the broader technology industry.

Vodafone has been a leading force in online child protection since 2002. We work closely with other organisations in the industry and beyond to drive common approaches to safe browsing and app use.

In 2004, Vodafone UK was the first company anywhere in the world to deliver an online child protection filter across its own 3G mobile network, which included integration of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) child sexual abuse content block list (see below). In 2007, similar 3G network-level filters were rolled out across our networks in our local markets, where permitted by law and accepted as necessary and desirable according to the prevailing culture of the country. In some countries, network-level filtering by operators is viewed as an unacceptable restriction of a citizen’s freedom to communicate, even when such measures are intended to protect children from harmful content. In these situations we have integrated client-based filtering as part of the Vodafone Guardian app, please see our example in Germany.

Vodafone is one of 22 companies that have signed up to the guiding principles of the ICT Coalition for Children Online, which we helped to develop. The principles set out a common code of conduct for the development of products and services that promote child safety online. We submitted a self-declaration report (pdf, 1.1 MB) of our status in September 2013 and an independent assessment of all the companies’ declarations was published in May 2014.

As a signatory to the European Commission’s CEO Coalition to make the internet a better place for kids, we commit to making it easier for users to report harmful content, ensure that privacy settings are age-appropriate and offer parental controls. In January 2014, we delivered our status report to the EU, outlining our progress against our commitments to online safety. We continue to engage with the other members on the EU’s Strategy for a Better Internet for Children, which aims to improve children’s digital skills, help them stay safe online and remove child sexual abuse material.

Vodafone is on the Board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, a policy advisory group chaired by government ministers and comprised of organisations from government, industry, law, academia and the charity sector, all of which work in partnership to help keep children safe online. In 2014/15, we also chaired the Family Online Safety Institute and the IWF Funding Council.

In focus: Keeping families safe and secure online

Vodafone Secure Net offers customers protection for their whole family when browsing the internet. Working as part of the network, without the need for additional downloads, it protects against viruses, dangerous files and harmful websites. And it can all be controlled from any device with a Vodafone connection. Find out more at Vodafone Secure Net.

Blocking child abuse content

The internet contains a large amount of material that is not suitable for under 18s. There is also a much smaller amount of content accessible on the internet that relates to child sexual abuse and is illegal in most countries.

Vodafone is committed to doing all it can to remove such content from the internet. We have Notice and Takedown procedures in place to ensure this illegal content is removed or dealt with appropriately, should it be found on our servers, and to coordinate with law enforcement agencies on any subsequent investigation.

Additionally, as a member of the IWF, we maintain filters on our own networks that block access to web pages known to host child sexual abuse content, using a block list provided by the IWF. We do this in the majority of our markets in the EU, with the exception of the Netherlands and Germany, where it is not legal to use such a block list.

Much of this illegal content is hosted in countries where Vodafone and other major operators do not have an operating business. The Mobile Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Content, established by the global industry body, the GSM Association (GSMA), aims to tackle this issue. Vodafone is a founding member of the Alliance, which is supported by more than 100 operators.

The Alliance provides best-practice advice and support to mobile operators worldwide to obstruct the use of mobile networks and services by individuals or organisations wishing to consume or profit from child sexual abuse content. It also provides support for law enforcement agencies seeking to investigate such activities. The Alliance is active in more than 67 countries and seeks to protect more than 757 million mobile phone users from exposure to illegal content accessed via the member operators’ own networks.

Educating parents and children

Our Digital Parenting website provides up-to-date guidance on protecting children from inappropriate content and the risks associated with social media sites. The accompanying magazines, also available online, offer views from experts and practical information about how to set up parental controls on handsets. In 2014/15, we sent the latest issue of the magazine to 3,300 schools in the Netherlands and distributed 1.2 million copies to schools across the UK. For more information, visit our Digital Parenting website or download our free Digital Parenting magazine.

We also offer free online resources, such as My Tech Family, to help parents, teachers and children improve their understanding of digital technology and get the most out of it. See case study below.

In focus: Promoting digital skills among families in the UK

Over 60% of parents think digital technology is changing so quickly that it is widening the generation gap2. We are helping children from 17,000 primary schools learn about using this technology together with their parents, so they can tap into the benefits safely.

In 2014/15, the Vodafone Foundation partnered with The Parent Zone, to launch My Tech Family, an online resource that encourages people to take part in digital activities as a family. From making a movie to creating an animation, My Tech Family offers a range of fun and creative digital activities for children and parents to enjoy together. It also provides free presentations and lesson plans to help teachers introduce My Tech Family to primary school classrooms.

Visit My Tech Family for more information.

Notes:

  1. Ofcom report, 2014 (pdf, 2.4 MB)
  2. A study of 1,000 parents conducted by The Parent Zone