Model Legislation Would Put Responsibility on Manufacturers to Make Phones Safer for Kids

Cars must have seatbelts, pill bottles must have child-safe caps, and cigarettes must have warning labels and cannot be sold to children. But for some reason virtually every pre-teen in America is given a smartphone–a device capable of communicating with people across the globe, accessing virtually any form of information, and taking and sending photos and videos–with virtually zero inherent safety measures.

There are no warning labels or safety instructions for children. There are no default settings oriented toward child safety and, as a result, parents are left behind the curve and struggling to keep their kids safe. Technology is powerful and in today’s world it is highly accessible. Even to children. Which also means that it is potentially very dangerous.

In answer to this problem, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) has developed model legislation that would require mobile phone and smart device manufacturers to install active filtering software on all of the devices they produce and require sellers to verify and ensure that each device they sell has this active filtering software in place. This approach is designed to allow filters to be easily removed by adults but difficult to circumvent by children. This puts the burden on manufacturers and retailers to ensure that the products they are creating and selling are as safe as possible for children.

It is time for the manufacturers of smart devices to acknowledge the very serious dangers and risks their products can pose to children and to take the steps necessary to make them safer. Click To Tweet

Our model legislation seeks to protect children while not overburdening Free Speech. We hope to accomplish this by making it very easy for adults to modify or completely remove filters using a five-to-seven digit code provided to them at the time of purchase. Parents shall also be capable of modifying and removing filter settings for their children at their own discretion. This serves two important purposes. First, it ensures that adults are not restricted to only that content which is appropriate for children. And second, it empowers parents to decide what is safe and appropriate for their children to access online. Additionally, as the filters and safety settings are established at the time of manufacture, as the default setting, they are much more effective at blocking harmful material that can enter the phone through both cellular and WiFi Internet access. This also makes them more difficult to circumvent by tech-savvy children.

This approach helps solve the tech problems and limitations of current filtering options available to parents. Such options include applications that can be downloaded after the devices have been purchased and which can oftentimes be circumvented easily, or filtering services provided by either the Internet Service Provider (ISP) of the cell phone or the family’s home wireless Internet that are insufficient because they are limited to their sphere of control. Smartphone ISPs have no ability to block anything that enters the phone through an alternate Internet source–such as public WiFi at a coffee shop–and home Internet filtering services cannot block anything accessed through the smartphone’s cellular data network. By placing Internet filtering requirements at the manufacturer level, the devices themselves will be capable of filtering harmful content as they move in and out of different Internet networks.

Additionally, the burden on manufacturers is slight. Apple and Android, for example, already preload many default settings and applications at the manufacturer level and Apple recently rolled out extensive parental control options with their latest version of iOS. Under our legislation they would merely need to activate this type of technology as the default setting and allow adult customers and parents to modify or remove them with a code.

Countless children have suffered from exposure to hardcore pornography on their Internet-enabled devices. The most violent, degrading, and graphic pornography imaginable is available instantly and only a few googled terms away on every smartphone. It is impossible for parents to manage the overwhelming amount of toxic material that can enter their children’s phones and the various ways they can access it. Additionally, the potential harms to children go beyond pornography exposure to include anything from grooming and sexual harassment by adults online to recruitment into sex trafficking via social media. These risks are inherent to any child using an Internet-capable device and children are not capable of protecting themselves from the many ways they can be harmed and preyed upon online.

It is time for the manufacturers of such products to acknowledge the very serious dangers and risks their products can pose to children and to take the steps necessary to make them safer. Parents should not have to choose between denying their children access to technology or exposing them to violent hardcore pornography.

The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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