International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children Australia Ltd

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Online Industry Codes – Combatting Online Child Sexual Exploitation

November 29, 2022
child online using apps on computer

As online child sexual exploitation (OCSE) statistics have dramatically continued to rise over recent years, the regulator response has been an important step in the protection of vulnerable children.

A specific response to this problem has been for the eSafety Commissioner, the world leader in online protection since their establishment in 2015, to ask large technology organisations, in particular social media platforms that are an attractive medium for children and teens, to demonstrate how they are ensuring the safety of young people. This is a key focus for eSafety, having commenced work on the Safety by Design principles in 2018.

The most recent initiative in this space is the development of Industry Codes, which are designed with the principle of “placing user safety at the forefront of online service design”.

The Industry Codes have their foundation in The Online Safety Act 2021 which came into effect in January this year.

Along with expanding and strengthening the eSafety Commissioner as the regulating authority in online safety, the Act also provided a multi-level approach to regulating online materials.

eSafety began the process of drafting the Codes earlier in 2022. Following the first draft of the Codes, eSafety issued a position paper on what they should fulfil. They then opened the process up to Industry, non-government organisations operating in the child sexual exploitation (CSE) space and the general public to provide their submissions in response to the draft codes.

This process generated a range of responses from each group, with many organisations, including ICMEC Australia, welcoming the focus on the safety of children, as well as suggesting they be simplified in order to understand and implement them, and that the codes be adaptable to future technological development.

The response from tech companies, whilst understanding that the safety of children needs to be a high consideration, was that many were concerned that if the codes were unnecessarily onerous they would negatively impact smaller organisations.

Whilst the position of each of these groups presents valid points of concern, what is obvious is that determining a set of codes needs to be a clear and transparent process that provides a measure of online safety that protects children from multiple types of abuse and exploitation. And that they need to be robust enough to remain valid and effective as new technologies and platforms emerge.

With the deadline of 18th November now passed for the finalisation of the codes ahead of registration, eSafety begins the important task of reviewing and assessing them.

We are eagerly awaiting the outcomes of this review and hope for a much safer online space for vulnerable children.

Our full discussion paper on the Industry Codes is available through our Member Portal. Register here.

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