EU launches ‘Mobile Safety for Children’ consultation

source: EU website

The European Commission has started a public consultation about the issue of child safety and the use of the mobile phone. The consultation is undertaken within the framework of the “Safer Internet” programme.

A “Public consultation document” (PDF file, 142.2 KB) has been released that describes the issue. In short, the EU sees the following risks:

1) “Exposure to illegal or inappropriate content” – Children may be exposed to unwanted or illegal content via the mobile phone.
2) “Ease of contact by predators, bullying” – Children may be prone to harassment via the mobile phone.
3) “Risk of high expense, exposure to advertising by mobile marketers and phishing” – Children may lose a lot of money by unknowingly using services or being tricked.

The report suggests a couple of solutions:

1) Content classification
2) Opt-in versus Opt-out
3) Age verification
4) Filtering and blocking (including blacklisting)
5) Notice and take down procedures
6) Moderation of chat rooms
7) Raising awareness
8) Dedicated mobile phones for children

Doing something about all this hovers, as always, between legal rules and restrictions on the one hand, and self regulation of the industry on the other hand.

The whole report breathes ‘social impact’ thinking, whereby new technologies are portrayed as an outside force, threatening the current stability and order of things. Apart from that, what is conspicuously lacking from the document’s list of possible ‘risks’ or ‘challenges’ – in my view – are the more interesting sociological and philosophical questions. For instance:

  • Question of ‘digital divide’ – Is there any ‘risk’ in not having access to the mobile phone (e.g. due to financial situation of family; geographical coverage; lack of education; etc.)? What does it mean for the social position of the child not to have a mobile phone, especially when his/her peers all have one?
  • Questions of parental trust and educational development: What does it mean for a child to be given the trust to use the mobile phone, or conversely, what does it mean not the be allowed one by the parent(s)?
  • Questions of social networks – What is the contribution of the mobile phone to the formation of social ties with other children? Is the mobile phone an indispensable tool for creating social bonds?
  • Question of personal identity development – What influence does the mobile phone have on the development of personal identity and autonomy of the child? Is it aiding the development of a sense of personhood? Or is the mobile phone creating a “distributed self”, a form of selfhood beyond singular and autonomous, but interdependent and distributed?

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