Feb 28, 2024 - Axios Events

Building a Safer Mobile Online Future: An Axios Expert Voices Discussion Event in Barcelona, Spain

Attendees enjoying dinner during the conversation. Credit: Aleksandra Dynaś for Axios

Attendees enjoying dinner during the conversation. Credit: Aleksandra Dynaś for Axios

The big picture: Axios headed to Barcelona to host an Expert Voices roundtable discussion event over dinner that convened experts across several different facets of children's online safety. The conversation dove into ways regulators, tech platforms and parents alike are grappling with the issue of keeping kids safe online without upending the entire web.

  • Axios senior media reporter Sara Fischer and global technology correspondent Ryan Heath both led the conversation.

Why it matters: Five CEOs of the biggest tech companies just testified before Congress about the issue of children's online safety, signaling the prominence the problem has taken on at a legislative level, yet there is an unclear path forward in the U.S. for policy aimed at protecting children from things like exploitation and bullying online.

What they're saying: Attendees echoed the sentiment that there is not one single entity alone that is responsible for protecting children online, and noted how the issue is largely centered around debates about whether corporations or regulators are primarily responsible for creating rules that enhance youth online safety. The issue is becoming all the more pressing as AI gains more traction in its ability to depict, deceive and reach children in harmful ways – at the same time, AI could potentially be used to enact guardrails and verification tools that could help protect children online.

  • Tony Krueck, Cox Mobile SVP: "We've always had a presence in the internet connectivity business with broadband, and with that broadband business we have focused and paid attention to digital literacy and doing everything we can to help educate all of our customers on the dangers and how to stay safe on the internet. We're about a year into our mobile journey, and we wanted to start having the conversations about how we extend everything we're doing in the broadband space into the mobile space."
  • Jack Walker, Brunswick Group director of global technology, media and telecoms: "I think it is a priority … I think the problem is getting through the right protections, and I think in some jurisdictions you see the corporate world moving faster than the regulators, than governments. In the U.K., we passed the Online Safety Act very recently, that's a process that kicked off in 2016, 2017, it's only just passed."
  • Josianne Galea Baron, UNICEF child rights and business specialist: "We've seen a real focus, and I think rightly so, on by design approaches. Child rights by design, safety by design, ensuring that there's no need for a cure because prevention is better. There's a wealth of knowledge, research, different guidance, so many organizations that are studying this that we know the different kinds of risks that children face online: contact, contract, conduct, content. We have the language, we have the frameworks to be able to anticipate issues and I think absolutely prevention is better than cure."
  • Bojana Bellamy, Centre for Information Policy Leadership president: "I think companies really need to step up, to demonstrate their digital accountability. Not because it's the law, but because it's all about trust, and confidence, and being better than your competitor frankly, and that's what we expect of good companies. I think we don't give them credit often. I think there is a lot of good things that companies are doing but somehow we focus on the bad all of the time. I would like to see this accountability incentivized, encouraged by regulators and policymakers as well a little bit more."
  • Prabhu Ram, CyberMedia Research head of industry intelligence group: "There is no one single silver bullet for all of these issues, it's not policy, it's not just parental controls, it's not device makers themselves. What we have seen for instance is … 83% of children, this is a survey that we recently did, for them, the smartphone is the primary means of relaxation."
  • Jacky Wright, McKinsey & Company senior partner and chief technology and platform officer: "I think the point about multifaceted in terms of how you solve it is what we need to look at … We have to think about also vulnerable communities as well when you think about how we are solving this problem. AI and how we are starting from a corporation perspective thinking about it is how we need to lean into this safety issue as well. We look at digital trust as a primary concern across corporations, we think about what's our moral compass and who we are as a corporation, we think about reputational damage and what happens there, and all of these things feed into how you design."

Thank you to Cox Mobile for sponsoring this event.

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