Why we need to create a safer internet community for kids in India

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Food, shelter, clothing, internet; the bare necessities have undergone a modification for this digital age. The internet has joined this list because it has become a platform that gives every person the freedom of expression, without any questions asked, or any information barred, This most concerns the children who are growing up in this digital economy, receiving tablets and iPhones for birthdays over traditional toys, and speaking a whole new language – the language of the digital native.

The month of February is when we celebrate ‘Safer Internet Day’ with the aim of making every person realise the importance of, and take one small step in the direction of, creating safer internet environments, especially for kids. One of the most prominent examples of an attempt at creation of a safer online environment is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), an integral point of compliance for websites that collect information from children under thirteen. The act, put into practise by the United States of America in early 2000, has been designed to encourage and increase industry self-regulation. A country with a vast population like India, where the e-commerce boom has recently brought massive attention to the online space, is also starting to bloom in the space of online content for kids. So what are the safety measures that a parent would seek for protection for their child online, in comparison to what the industry/brand would want for their business to take off?

With India set to become the world’s youngest country, with 64 per cent of its population in the working age group, by 2020, catering to the age bracket of 13 years and above has plenty of scope. Through social media, in-built information forms and even direct surveys, this category of audience is well understood, and brands are able to cater to them through effective communication. The matter of creating a bond with children who are below 13, therefore arises. There is widespread suspicion of online platforms for children, simply because they are online. However, a recent survey by ASSOCHAM confirmed that 73% of children in tier-I and tier-II cities between eight and 13 are using Facebook and other social networking sites. This thereby proves that parents are comfortable with internet usage for their kids, if the network has yielded them positive results. What is unfortunately not understood by these parents is that underage usage of these networks can lead to problems of addiction and exposure to content that is not age-appropriate along with the host of problems mentioned above.

The need of the hour is therefore to approach the internet space for kids in a two-pronged way – one dedicated towards content creating and maintaining the interest of the kids, the other to the needs of the parents in the internet space. Such approaches can be put into action by seeking out the consumer and understanding their preferences, without coming across as an infringement on their privacy. To celebrate a Safer Internet Day in the true sense of the word, taking upon individual responsibility is of prime importance. This would require the government to come down strongly on cyber security for children. While at present India does not have an independent statute protecting privacy, the right to privacy is a deemed right under the Constitution that has to be understood in the context of Article 19 and Article 21. In a cyber context, taking from the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, it is time we implement a statutory set of guidelines that can be incorporated as part of every online brand’s guidelines. Until a formal resolution is not made by the government, it inevitably becomes the responsibility of the brand to protect the interest of the child in the online space. But, in the same way as charity begins at home, a guided parental approach will go miles in ensuring that the internet always remains a safe place for children, no matter what content is published online.

As every parent puts safety ahead of all for their child, we have to understand that the process of making the internet space safe for kids can be achieved through co-creation of content in the online space. This can happen only once online communities, including content creators, brands and the government, understand the need to create a more responsible online space that will benefit kids. Let us resolve that, like our country allows for a set of rights towards all its citizens, we may also imbibe and understand our own set of duties towards the ever-flourishing space of the internet.

 

About the Author:

This article has been authored by Mr. Mihir Shah, Chief Operating Officer – worldoo.com

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


Related read: MyGov collaborates with Cert-In and Google to launch ‘Internet Safety Campaign’ in India


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