September 24th, 2008 | Published in Google Public Policy
As Vint Cerf wrote last December, "Google is dedicated to supporting parents' efforts to educate and protect their children when they go online." Through policies like YouTube's Community Guidelines and easy-to-use technologies like SafeSearch, Google helps families safely enjoy the freedom of expression that is so essential to the Internet.
And we cannot do it alone. Last Wednesday and Thursday, we hosted several events for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) at our headquarters in Mountain View. We have been working with FOSI for nearly two years, and in 2007, Vint was a keynote speaker at FOSI's annual conference in Washington, DC. In April of this year, Pablo Chavez of the Google policy team became a member of FOSI's Board of Directors, and we have continued to find opportunities to work with other industry stakeholders, policymakers, and non-profit organizations that care about this issue.
The events this past week are a great example of this kind of cooperation. We kicked off with a screening of the renowned PBS Frontline documentary, Growing Up Online, introduced by Google's Director of Global Public Policy Andrew McLaughlin. After the screening, representatives from organizations such as Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely, and Web Wise Kids participated in a discussion with the film's producer, Rachel Dretzin. Questions focused on changing the conversation about child safety away from the sensationalism of television shows like "To Catch a Predator" to focus instead on how the online lives of our children are extensions of normal adolescent behavior: trying on identities, pushing against authority, and, yes, taking risks.
A key message from the filmmakers is that adolescents do understand the messages about "stranger danger" online and generally have adopted safe practices. The producers cited their own example of not being able to get children to reply to their emailed requests for interviews because the kids wouldn't respond to someone they didn't know. Parental involvement in the online lives of their children remains an essential tool in helping families have safe Internet experiences. You can watch the entire discussion here:
In the afternoon, FOSI CEO Stephen Balkam moderated an invitation-only roundtable, "Searching for Online Safety Solutions." In addition to Google and YouTube, participating organizations included AT&T, Facebook, Loopt, MySpace, Ning, SecondLife, and Yahoo!. Anne Collier, President and Editor of NetFamilyNews and Co-Director of ConnectSafely, provided a sensible introduction to the fast-changing landscape of online safety. Micah Schaffer of YouTube's policy team and I added Google's perspective to the three-hour discussion, in which several speakers called on participants to base their approach to child safety on current research and statistics rather than on political pressures. The practice of partnering with child safety organizations, law enforcement agencies, and education groups has created strong coalitions, and as our work becomes more well-known, we expect to see even greater improvements in safe surfing practices and technologies.
We're happy to see that in so many areas, Google continues to provide positive examples for the industry, and we look forward to continuing our association with FOSI and other organizations to protect online speech while we protect children online. Our engineers will keep working and iterating on innovative tools like SafeSearch that empower parents to choose what's appropriate for their families to see while searching. For more online safety tips and resources, be sure to check out FOSI's YouTube channel and Google's Tips for Online Safety.