Need help dealing with violent or distressing online content? Learn more

Safety by Design


Safety by Design


Safety by Design puts user safety and rights at the centre of the design and development of online products and services. 

Rather than retrofitting safeguards after an issue has occurred, Safety by Design focuses on the ways technology companies can minimise online threats by anticipating, detecting and eliminating online harms before they occur.

This proactive and preventative approach focuses on embedding safety into the culture and leadership of an organisation. It emphasises accountability and aims to foster more positive, civil and rewarding online experiences for everyone.

Safety by Design also acknowledges the need to make digital spaces safer and more inclusive to protect those most at risk.

It encourages technology companies to alter their design ethos from ‘moving fast and breaking things’ or ‘profit at all costs’ to ‘moving thoughtfully’, investing in risk mitigation at the front end and embedding user protections from the get-go. 

All Safety by Design initiatives have been developed through in-depth research and consultation with industry for industry.

Overview of Safety by Design


Hello, I'm Julie Inman Grant, and I am Australia's eSafety Commissioner.

eSafety is delighted to share its Safety by Design initiative with you.

eSafety is Australia's national online safety regulator. The first one of its kind. 

We lead, coordinate and advise on a range of safety issues to ensure that all Australians have safer and more positive experiences online.   

We approach our work through three different lenses: prevention, protection and proactive change, or the three 'p's.

It's the third 'p' I would like to discuss my talk on today: Proactive and systemic change.

If we're truly going to make the online world a safer place in the future, we've got to minimise the threat surface.

We must do better in terms of anticipating, detecting and eliminating the proliferation of online abuse.

We also need to make our digital spaces safer and more inclusive by protecting those most at risk.

So how do we go about affecting change right now? 

At eSafety we strongly believe that the answer lies in Safety by Design.

Safe design principles and standards are commonplace in the physical world, but this was not always the case.

It's hard to believe that it's been over 50 years since the campaign to put seatbelts in every car first began.

But now when we get into our cars, we almost take for granted that seatbelts, airbags, anti-lock brakes and other protections guided by international standards will help keep us safer on the road. Safety is built in by design.

But we know that the online world was not built for safety; it was built for speed.

We need to alter the design ethos that takes us from moving fast and breaking things, and profits at all costs, to one that focuses on moving thoughtfully, investing in risk mitigation at the front end and embedding user protections from the get-go.

The expectation of user safety should be as much a priority for technology companies as it is for the food, toy and automotive industries.

Prioritising the rights and dignity of users in product design and development will engender a culture of innovation, will motivate workforces, and ultimately will positively impact bottom lines. It just makes good business sense.

At eSafety, we've already been working with industry since 2018 on the Safety by Design initiative. 

We knew that to affect cultural change and for Safety by Design to be taken on and lead from the top, that industry genuinely needed to be at the heart of this process.

We also understood that we needed to play to industry strengths by encouraging both investment and innovation in product development and innovation that prioritises safety.

It was also vitally important that Safety by Design reflected the diverse needs of the technology ecosystem.

So we also consulted with NGOs, advocates, parents and young people themselves.

This truly collaborative effort yielded three overarching Safety by Design principles.

The first of these is 'Service provider responsibility'. 

The burden of safety should never fall solely upon the user and very attempt must be made to ensure online harms are understood, assessed and addressed in service design and provision.

This involves assessing the potential risks of online interactions upfront and taking active steps to engineer out potential misuse, reducing people's exposure to harms.

Indeed, it's really great to see many technology companies investing in and employing innovative hybrids of human moderation alongside advanced machine learning and AI tools, helping to minimise exposure to traumatic material.

The second Safety by Design principle is 'User empowerment and autonomy', which of course speaks to the dignity of users and the need to design features and functionality that preserve fundamental consumer and human rights.

This means understanding that abuse is intersectional and that technology can exacerbate societal inequalities.

To combat this, we need to engage in meaningful consultation with diverse and at-risk groups to ensure that platform features and functions are accessible to all.

But when things do go wrong, having easily discoverable and seamless reporting pathways and features, like blocking, muting and conversation controls, that empower uses to regulate their online experiences is evermore critical.

This includes setting default privacy and safety settings at the highest possible levels at the point of sign-up and registration so that users are safeguarded from the start.

The third Safety by Design principle is 'Transparency and accountability'.

These are hallmarks of a robust approach to user safety, and should act as a catalyst in seeing a race to the top in terms of user safety.

At the moment, we largely see what could be defined as selective transparency rather than radical transparency. But the tide is definitely turning.

The publication of information relating to  how companies are enforcing their own policies and data on the efficacy of safety features or innovations will allow us to truly assess what is working.

If interventions are improving safety outcomes for users or deterring online abuse, these innovations should be shared and more widely adopted.

Principles themselves do not lead to tangible change.

This is why eSafety has spent the past year working with industry, service providers, parents and carers, and young people to devise resources that assist in a broad range of sectors to make the Safety by Design principles actionable and effective.

We recognise that there are important inflection points and players across the technology ecosystem that need to be leveraged to enable real change.

This is why we've worked with investors, venture capitalists and the start-up and incubation communities to develop an investment toolkit for financial entities. 

We also know that investors and VCs play a pivotal role in nurturing tech ventures and founders.

They're often much more experienced about what leads to success and they can help put safety and ethical considerations at the heart of the businesses they invest in.

We are also trying to shape a new generation of engineers, computer scientists and technologists, and are seeking to help embed Safety by Design throughout university curricula around the world.

For industry, we spent the last year developing a set of dynamic and interactive assessment tools for early-stage technology companies, as well as for mid-tier and enterprise companies.

The purpose of the tools is to guide, support and assist industry to truly embed safety into the culture. ethos and operations of the business, from the ground up.

The tools have been built to be educative, informative and to inspire.

They guide participants through sets of questions covering areas from leadership to internal policies to moderation practices to accountability measures, asking about what systems, processes and practices are currently in place.

The responses culminate in a tailored report that acts as both a safety health check and as a learning resource, pointing to areas that could be bolstered or strengthened so that the bar of online safety can continually be raised.

Importantly, the Safety by Design tools also showcase current good practice and evidence-based resources and templates. This is what makes these tools truly distinct.

Companies are provided with tangible examples, workflows and videos from tech company leaders to help actively address areas that may need strengthening or bolstering, guiding them on ways to improve and innovate.

We are proud that these resources have been developed with industry for industry to help bring the tools and Safety by Design principles to life, and to lead to meaningful change.

Of course, our work does not stop here. We know from experience that online safety is a journey rather than a destination.

We believe that technology is a critical enabler for the future, but we simply need to make the online world a safer and less toxic place for all of us to yield the full benefits. 

Safety by Design sets a positive and clear pathway for industry to develop more responsible products and safer digital services.

Our hope is that one day, we will all be able to take the provision of online safety standards for granted, just as we do today with our cars.

Thank you.

Julie Inman Grant talks about the Safety by Design initiatives

Learn more about our Safety by Design approach.

Key initiatives

Research and consultation for Safety by Design began in 2018. It now includes:

Initiatives in development

Initiatives in development include:

  • encouraging adoption of Safety by Design by governments, industry and organisations globally
  • working with the investment community to incorporate Safety by Design into investment criteria and responsible investment practices
  • generating practical engagement of the Safety by Design tools and principles within the start-up community
  • focusing on diverse, marginalised and at-risk groups to ensure their needs are effectively considered, incorporated and actioned in Safety by Design practices
  • developing targeted Safety by Design resources for new and emerging sectors.

Check how your company can improve user safety

Start by assessing how well your company's systems, processes and practices support user safety, then use your tailored report and the suggested resources to make improvements. 

The enterprise tool is for mid-tier companies (50 to 249 employees worldwide) and top-tier companies (250+ employees worldwide).

The start up tool is for early stage or start-up companies (1 to 49 employees worldwide).

Go to tools

More information

For more information please read the Safety by Design principles and background and the frequently asked questions about the assessment tools. You can also find out more about how eSafety protects your privacy.

Feedback and collaboration

If you would like to give us feedback or let us know about a new feature or product, please get in touch.

You can also find out more about how to collaborate on our Safety by Design initiatives.

Last updated: 11/11/2021