The Importance of Online “Safety by Design”: Enter LEGO

The technology industry has a long history of designing products with the needs of users in mind, and responding to user risks. At the turn of the recent century, “Y2K Armageddon” failed to materialise, but more robust online and infrastructure security became the new clarion call. This saw ‘security by design’ (SbD) embedded as a standard element in the technology development process, and is now just as important, if not more, in the era of the Cloud.

Several major data breaches and privacy-encroaching technologies later, ‘privacy by design’ (PbD) became the next development process imperative. This was another positive step, showing how the industry could respond to the needs and concerns of users.

Fast forward to 2017, and one has to wonder why ‘safety by design’, particularly for online services that facilitate user interaction, has not taken off. In the age of mobile phones and rampant social media (and the sexting, grooming and cyberbullying that has come with these interactive platforms), why are safety tools retro-fitted after the damage is done? Surely, online companies and app developers should be considering the potential misuse of their platforms before they go to market, particularly for those aimed at kids and teens.

I am really pleased that today the team from LEGO have done just that. We all know and love LEGO as creative play and educational tool for kids (and adults alike), and as the company has extended into the digital worldthey have sought to incorporate ‘safety by design’ as part of their development and launch of LEGO Life.

LEGO Life is essentially a moderated social media site—meaning adults are ‘online chaperoning’ the users, 24/7. The site offers users a range of safety features for its under 13-year-old users including friendly emojis to communicate—rather than words—no ability for users to share personal information and a stated commitment to safety through LEGO’s Safety Pledge.

LEGO is by no means the only provider of digital technologies to use such safety by design principles. But having trialled LEGO Life, I believe the protections they have incorporated set a high bar for other providers. In creating a child-friendly digital play experience where safety has been comprehensively considered and soundly addressed, LEGO has shown that it is possible to do this at the design stage, rather than retrospectively.

This is so important when it comes to kids and teens, as the risks of being online are high. Research by the eSafety Office shows Australian kids aged 8 – 13 years are, with or without their parents’ consent, already active users of social media and they do share personal information online.

For example, our research showed that 25 per cent of kids allow the photos they post to be seen by all users. And 35 per cent of kids don’t think about who can see their photos before they post them online. All of which sounds open and sharing, but runs the risk of content being available to strangers online.

This is where safety by design comes into its own. Kids will be online—it’s their world. And parents are often happy to let them do so. What kids’ platforms, apps or devices using the safety by design principle offer is minimised risk and a greater ability to manage issues when they arise: so kids can play, more safely. They can also learn how to communicate with others online using the basic principles of positivity, civility and respect.

While safety issues have been paramount for more than a decade, it may take some time for safety considerations to become the standard in development. Often, companies want to get their product out to market – they don’t want to dilute features and may determine that adding safety protections at the start is costly to develop and maintain. But, I would suggest that the cost to business reputation and to users—particularly kids—is too high for online platform and app providers to ignore.

While technology can help get us closer to where we want to be safety wise—but it will never be the total solution. Nothing can be absolutely safe or totally foolproof. As a parent, it’s good to look for both the online experiences that best protect kids, as well as the support technologies to help safeguard children—there are a number of products on the market, some commercial, that are well worth investigating.

Ultimately, the greatest help we can offer our children and young people is to remain engaged with them: being mindful of their interests, online and offline. We need to start conversations with them early and often. Have fun with them on the digital playground. And always, always, work together to explore the world online, safely.