Safety by Design: working together for user safety online

I don’t think any of us could have predicted even a few years ago that our beds would be able to track our sleep patterns, that we could meet our life partner through an AI dating chatbot, or that we don on a pair of goggles and a haptic suit and get the full sensory experience of climbing Mount Everest from the comfort of our living rooms. These are mind-blowing innovations.

We have largely placed our trust in technology companies, believing that their impressive innovations will improve our lives and society — and that they will enable us to better achieve our goals and dreams. In some cases, though, this trust has been eroded.

At eSafety, we are confronted with the realities of what unconstrained freedom to innovate can lead to. We know only too well how the online road is fraught with dark, hairpin turns and how navigating its pitfalls can be perilous — from cyberbullying and image-based abuse to illegal content, trolling, unwanted contact by strangers and social engineering scams. 

The challenge is that too often steps are taken to address risks and harms after the damage has been done, and that safety standards have not been built into the online services that we use each and every day. To address this, eSafety has launched a world-leading initiative, Safety by Design, which shifts responsibility for safety back onto technology organisations themselves.

Safety by Design places the safety and rights of users at the centre of the design, development and deployment of online products and services. It offers a set of standards that all online services, large or small, need to uphold. It ensures that industry is encouraged, assisted and supported to adequately address user safety, providing a clear and assertive path to govern and guide the development of safer online environments. It is our belief that this proactive and pre-emptive approach will achieve greater impact and have greater resonance with industry than regulation alone could ever achieve.

Today marks a milestone in our work — the release of the Safety by Design Principles. Developed through close collaboration with industry, parents and carers and young people themselves, the Principles provide a model that online services can use to help embed user safety. In consultation, participants agreed that services need to pay greater attention to user safety in the design and deployment of their services. Our consultation with young people was particularly informative and led to the development of a powerful vision statement that sets out what youth want industry to implement, so they can go online with the confidence that their safety has been comprehensively factored in.

Through this process we received broad support from the industry stakeholders who worked with us to shape and develop a set of realistic, actionable and achievable measures to better protect users online. Many of these stakeholders publicly stand behind the Principles and continue to work with us on the next steps: to develop resources that will help guide organisations as they embed user rights and safety into their products and services.

Our focus means that eSafety is ideally placed to head the development of this world-leading initiative. As SbD progresses, we continue to consult with technology companies, both domestic and international, of all sizes, types and stages of maturity, to finesse the framework and build support and understanding. Working together with industry is crucial, as is continuing to work with governments around the world to ensure a truly consistent approach.

We see that SbD represents a watershed moment. It is a time to address calls for greater online safety standards and to set us all on a positive path to a better place: a more responsible and safer digital world.

 

For more information, including a full overview of the initiative, please visit the Safety by Design webpage.


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