Leading the way with safety by design

Girl taking a selfie with smartphone 

In June, we set out our intention to develop a safety by design framework and to make user-safety the new design imperative, for technology companies large and small.

In order to better protect Australians online, as an Office we feel it is important that we focus on leveraging and driving up standards of user-safety within the tech community. We want to be able to help and assist the thriving tech sector here in Australia to demonstrate best practice, and to be global leaders in developing a set of principles that embed user-safety into the heart of products and services. Using a multi-stakeholder decision-making process to guide the development of a safety by design framework, it is our aim to secure safety by design as a shared goal.

We are taking a three-pronged approach to our consultation process:

Industry

We have shared our draft principles with all members of our Online Safety Consultative Working Group, our Cyberbullying Scheme Tiered Service providers, and a wider sample of key industry consortium groups, academics and rights-based organisations. We have been pleased with the level of engagement and response received from interested parties to date, and are currently consolidating all of the valuable feedback.

Young people

We are about to embark on a consultation exercise with one of our most important stakeholders—young Australians—to ensure their voices and opinions are heard, valued and actioned. We want to provide children and young people with the opportunity to express, in their own terms, what more they feel can be done to ensure that their needs and safety are addressed in the digital world. We hope to encourage young people to develop their own vision statement for industry, that will be incorporated within and sit alongside, the high-level principles.

Parents

We have also garnered the opinions of parents. Safety by design was addressed in a sub-section of a recent national representative survey of 3,520 parents of children aged 2 to 17, conducted by the eSafety Office. Preliminary findings reveal only 21% of parents thought technology companies were doing enough to build in safety features into their services. A significant number of parents informed us that ensuring the highest privacy settings were in place by default (68%), and better measures to restrict access to age-inappropriate content (62%) were the top safety measures that should be implemented by tech companies. The results of the wider survey will be released on our website over the next few months.

Next steps

Once all three consultation processes are completed, we will carefully consider all of the responses and develop a revised set of principles that reflect the feedback from all parties. A discussion paper clearly setting out the research, evidence and rationale behind each of the principles will follow. This paper will provide an overview of the feedback we received, as well as illustrating best practice examples we were informed of during the course of our consultations. We hope to have this completed by the end of this year.

Following this, we will develop guidance and resources that provide a tiered approach to safeguarding—based on the stage and maturity of the product or company. The principles and subsequent resources will provide a blue-print for organisations, setting out continuous and on-going commitments to drive forward real change.

We are aiming to create and leverage a race-to-the-top mentality. We also want to develop a shared and consistent narrative globally, and make greater strides in securing a safer online environment for all citizens. To this end, we are delighted that the Homeland Security, Public Safety, and Immigration Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom last week articulated their expectation on industry to prioritise the protection of users by building user safety into the design of all online platforms and services, including new technologies before they are deployed. It was a privilege to represent the Australian Government at this event and to talk about the importance of safety by design. We will continue to work alongside other Governments and the global community, to help shape a digital world that we can all be proud of.


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