"Mobile Phone Services and Child Safety": Experts talked about chances and limits, responsibilities and solutions

Sagem Orga hosted roundtable discussion

(PresseBox) ( Paderborn, )
In the mobile phone business, children and teenagers are the fastest growing sector. With the increased use by youngsters and the expansion of technological opportunities, however, potential risks are also growing. Sagem Orga invited interdisciplinarian experts to share their view on the topic and discuss chances, limits and responsibilities. Representatives of O2, Ganesh, Jamba, FSM and Sagem Orga joined the roundtable discussion.

Hardly another medium has experienced a career like that of the mobile phone, and statistics show rising usage numbers, especially among young people. Today, 92% of all 12-19 year-old have a mobile at their disposal, among the children aged 6-12 it is 47%.* With increased usage and of technological opportunities, the potential risks are growing. Consumer organizations stress the risk of high, uncontrolled expenditures, and 30% of all children know friends who have experienced bullying via their mobile phone, as well as exposure and access to illegal, harmful or adult content. 7% admit that they have been confronted with such problems personally.

Recently the European Commission published an official "Framework for safer mobile use by younger teenagers and children", signed by the major European mobile operators and content providers. As a result it was agreed to develop self-regulatory codes by February 2008. The industry has to act – and find a path between making a profit with a growing customer group and taking their social responsibility seriously.

Sagem Orga invited interdisciplianrian experts to a roundtable discussion on the topic "Mobile Phone Services and Child Safety - A balancing act between social responsibility and business interests" to illuminate the topic from all its different sides.

"First of all, it has to be recognized, that the potential dangers are very diverse. It is the first task for all of us to identify the problems and then address them all separately by developing respective measures, if necessary", said Otto Vollmers, responsible for mobile services and search engines of the FSM, voluntary self-regulation authority of multimedia service providers. " The most important issue is to raise awareness. Together with affiliate companies, the FSM has already taken respective steps, e.g. by developing resources for schools to work with. But of course the major part of the responsibility – concerning the raising of awareness - lies with the state, especially when it comes to the actual teaching of media literacy at schools. Yes, media law and youth protection law already exists in Germany, next to the very important self-regulation initiatives by the German mobile phone operators. The industry has to come together to find and define common approaches and standards. Bundled efforts are a more resounding way in order to tackle the problems successfully."

Annette Kroeber Riel, Senior Manager Governmental Relations for one of the world's leading providers of digital entertainment services Jamba, agreed: "The whole industry needs to take joint responsibility for consumer protection, especially in the area of child safety. We are in contact with the network operators as well as with parents on a constant basis regarding this matter. At Jamba we recognise our role, not only complying with all regulations but going beyond all directives and laws to ensure we offer a safe and conscientious service. Jamba was the first content provider to offer a child guardian service worldwide, implemented in 2005. With this, Jamba has set a standard which has been adopted by our competitors. Jamba is an active contributor to various industrial and marketing organizations, including those for advertising standards and the EU child safety program. We are deeply convinced that working together with all stakeholders is the best way to set industrial standards and provide the best child protection possible. This is especially important in such a fast paced business as ours, where new technologies are constantly available. To ensure that both minors and their parents continue to use our services confidentially and responsibly, we will keep supporting new developments regarding better child protection. We are convinced that a self-regulatory approach within the industry is the best solution and much more practical than legislation."

"I think, that for the industry it is better to decide on the actions than to wait for legislation to decide. There is a lot of value in technical solutions addressing several problems in detail, like the parental control solution that we have developed, " said Ron Pettengill, CEO of Ganesh Technologies. "The fact is that the age at which children are getting their first mobile phones is getting younger and younger. And in generally, the original intention for parents in giving it to them is to keep them safe. At the same time the problem is emerging that now anyone can contact the child via phone. We did two years of research work, focussing on child safety regarding text messaging and voice calls. We were looking at it from the perspective of whether this is what parents want. The question was, first, if this is something that parents want to be provided by the operator, and second, if a mobile operator offered it, would it make a difference and influence the customers' decision-making process in choosing an operator? The result of the survey was that 78% of the questioned parents stated that they would make network selection based on basis of the availability of a parental control service."

Richard Thompson, Manager applications & solutions at Sagem Orga, shared this view: "We are recommending the parental control solution. It enables an operator to give parents a tool that works and to do something about this. So far the deployment is not huge, therefore we think here the industry needs to be helped here by government pushing it to be a must."

"Yes, as an operator we also think that legislation has to be the first step", said Gary Waite, Technology Manager for Devices & SIM at O2 UK. "There is a lot of work to be done regarding the code of practice that all operators and the government signed up to. For example, so far it does not cover voice calls, it only covers data. And even there it only covers rich data like pictures, etc. That means, that today a child could still text an adult service. There has to be a way to handle that. As well we have to talk about technical ways to prevent peer-to-peer exchange that could enable children to transfer adult or violent content. It is a tremendous responsibility."
Neill Whitworth, product manager at O2 UK, added: "Another challenge will be the rising number of 3G handsets and along with that more possibilities like video calls, especially as these become cheaper and cheaper."
Gary Waite: "Convergence might open up opportunities for child protection. Operators are now buying broadband, mobile TV, etc. – a real chance for the operator to control distribution channels, and therefore a greater amount of content."

The roundtable discussion showed a great need for discussion and the importance of bringing together all parties involved. Sagem Orga is going to continue this approach.

* Basic study of media usage of 6-13 years-olds and 12-19 years-olds in Germany, Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverbund Südwest, 2006
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