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What do the EU citizens really think about data privacy and child protection online?

ECPAT polling results show that 7 in 10 EU citizens want child safety online

Over the last couple of years, conversations around the relationship between online privacy and how to ensure that children are safe online have increased. For many, these issues are often confusing and delve into highly technical terminology and jargon.  The truth is that the protection of children from online child sexual exploitation, data privacy, and data protection are largely addressed in distinct pieces of European legislation, but require a complex balance when it comes to the point of enforcement. While children – among the most vulnerable members of any society – need to be protected online, agreeing upon how to best do this is far from simple. 

The debates and discussions that took place in the first half of 2021 led the EU to approve a Regulation, commonly referred to as the Temporary Derogation from the e-Privacy Directive, that authorises technology companies to deploy specialised automated tools to voluntarily detect child sexual abuse material and detect the online grooming of children. 

What are the risks for children? How can we ensure that they are safe online? And what do governments need to do?  

Too often policymakers and civil society organisations spring into action to solve and advocate for the resolution of an issue, without having robust insight into the views of the general public. That is what led ECPAT International to conduct an online survey with adults to find out what EU citizens really think about the issues of online privacy and the need to ensure child safety online?’  

In partnership with our member Defence for Children – ECPAT Netherlands and YouGov, we polled eight countries across the European Union to gage public opinion on online child protection and privacy. 

In September 2021, we surveyed 9,410 adults—a cross section of EU society—from France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and Spain. We asked them various questions to assess what they thought of a legal obligation to use detection technology, how it would affect their online privacy, and what they would like to see as it pertains to protecting children online. The results clearly demonstrated that there is widespread public support for the use of automated tools to identify child sexual abuse material online and for the European Union to introduce longer-term legislation that will keep children safe online. Read the summary of the findings here. 

 

The message from some of the largest countries in the European Union is clear: the public wants action to keep children safe and see automated tools as the answer.

According to our survey, 76% of adults have indicated a willingness to allow automated technology tools that specifically scan and detect child sexual abuse material online – even if this means giving up some of their privacy. Most agree that regulating online spaces with the best interest of children is essential to ensuring their safety online. 

More recently, Suojellaan Lapsia – Protect Children, a non-governmental organisation working to prevent sexual violence against children in Finland, polled their citizens with different questions and found that two thirds of Finns also think that children should have more protections in the digital environment. Read Suojellaan Lapsia – Protect Children findings.

Encouragingly, in May 2022 the European Commission published a proposal for a regulation to prevent and combat child sexual abuse. This proposal would impose legal obligations and provide minimum safeguards for technology companies to detect, remove, and report child sexual exploitation and abuse online. With this new proposal, the European Commission seeks to create a rulebook on how and by whom data can be gathered, and how it is to be used to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse while respecting the rights of all users to privacy online. Read more about the proposal here.

The European Union opened a public consultation available for public comments on the proposal from CSOs, NGOs, and private citizens until 12 September 2022.  

 

Support the path toward child safety online in the EU by adding your voice to the ones of other EU citizens.
Visit the European Commission webpage, and join us in calling on the EU to mandate online service providers to detect, remove, and report child sexual abuse material and any other form of child sexual abuse and exploitation online.  
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Download the full survey data
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