Dynamic Coalition on Child Online Safety
Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min
Video content now constitutes 60% of all internet traffic and the proportion continues to grow. “Gaming is becoming a significant force in traffic volume as gaming downloads, Twitch streaming, and professional gaming go mainstream” (Sandvine Report, October, 2018) Estimates suggest that “7.8% of all internet traffic is linked to gaming, including downloads from major gaming networks (PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, Steam, Nintendo, etc.) as well as traffic from specific games. The actual “gaming” traffic on the network when downloads are included is likely higher than 7.8% due to marketplace downloads (ibid). Sales of games on physical formats such as DVDs have all but disappeared as gaming has become a distinct and important subset of global internet activity.
Yet gaming has remained largely outside the scope of discussions on internet governance and the search for widely applicable standards which uphold universally recognised rights. The disappearance of physical formats e.g. the sale of DVDs has also resulted in the loss of a potential source of control or authority in relation to specified age limits for games as well as a loss of potential sources of advice and guidance e.g. from the sales staff in the shops.
Children have a right to play (Art. 31, UN-CRC) and the online environment is now a key arena within which that right is exercised. The benefits to young people of being able to engage with the kind of rich environments which games can create seem to be indisputable. Yet there is a never-ending stream of reports about harms to children arising from online gaming. While games are designed to engage users there is little evidence of measures being taken to guard against excessive use.
Question to be discussed:
- What care is being taken by games providers to ensure age inappropriate content or themes are not included in games which attract younger children? Parents are often not aware of the nature of the online environments which the games establish, where children interact and communicate with perhaps a great many other people they do not know and the children themselves do not know.
- What care is being taken to ensure malevolent individuals, sexual predators or bullies, are not being given easy access to children in environments where the possibility of parental supervision or support is, for practical purposes, either wholly non-existent or extremely limited?
- How should this be reflected against Art. 34 UN-CRC, protection from sexual abuse?
- What care is being taken to ensure gaming is not a soft introduction to or a pathway towards gambling?
- How are ever more immersive games likely to impact on the quality of children’s lives as augmented reality and virtual reality technologies continue to improve and become incorporated into larger numbers of games?
- Children’s gaming behaviour, their interaction with others, the duration of their usage, and the daytime of gaming activities are recorded when gaming online. How can it be ensured these data are not exploited for commercial purpose?
- Is enough being done to safeguard children from different forms of commercial and non-commercial exploitation (Art. 36 UN-CRC), including being exposed to advertising which they would not otherwise encounter because of regulatory limitations imposed in other environments?
The Dynamic Coalition meeting will consider what governance mechanisms could be developed to draw the gaming industry into the discussions on children’s rights, in particular their right to play and their right to protection from inappropriate, illegal and bullying behaviours as well as their right to be protected from sexual abuse and commercial exploitation.
Recommendations for politics and the private sector in regard of regulation and self-regulation measures in order to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the child Recommendations for carers and parents in regard of respecting the rights of the child and enabling their children to cope with potential risk and harm.
Key publication on the issue:
Marie-laure Lemineur, ECPAT International
09.30 – 09.35 am: Introduction to the theme and the UN-CRC (5 min, Jutta Croll, moderator)
09.35 – 10.00 am: Input from the speakers (25 min, 5 min each)
- Daniel Kardefelt-Winther, research Lead - Children & Digital Technology, UNICEF Office of Research
- John Carr, ECPAT International
- Emily Cashman Kirstein, Thorn, USA
- Clement Leong (aka “Stinky”), games developer, former professional gamer
- Lies van Roessel, researcher at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Institute for Music, Media und Linguistics researching the development of free-to-play Games.
- Vicky Shotbolt, CEO Parentzone, UK
10.00 – 10.50 am: Discussion with DC COS members and participants to the session (50 min)
10.50 – 11.00 am: Wrap up and conclusions (10 min)
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
What care is being taken by games providers to ensure age inappropriate content or themes are not included in games which attract younger children?
What care is being taken to ensure malevolent individuals, sexual predators or bullies, are not being given easy access to children in environments where the possibility of parental supervision or support is, for practical purposes, either wholly non-existent or extremely limited?
How should this be reflected against Art. 34 UN-CRC, protection from sexual abuse and against Art. 36 UN-CRC, protection from different forms of commercial and non-commercial exploitation?
Please see the session description for the complete set of questions.
The Dynamic Coalition meeting has considered what governance mechanisms should be developed to draw the gaming industry into the discussions on children’s rights.
- Based on the UN-CRC children’s right to leasure, play and culture was was assumed as important than childrens right to be protected from abuse and exploitation.
- Speakers raised the issue that games and apps are usually age rated based on their content but that doesn’t sufficiently reflect neither risks of inappropriate interaction and communication parallel to the game being played nor does it reflect the risk of commercial exploitation of children f. e. by in-app-purchases or loot boxes.
- A youth representative described how games can be engaging in a way that makes one forget about the lessons learned in regard of appropriate online behaviour, he expressed concerns on being contacted by unknown people when playing games.
- It was mentioned that while there is still a great deal of doubt about the validity of using the idea of “addiction” to gaming there are widespread concerns and anxieties about excessive use.
- Some speakers mentioned their concern about profiling children’s behaviour in playing games and utilizing such data even though anonymised to develop new services and applications responding to children’s desires thus attracting and beguiling them to play even more.
- There is wide concern about the extent to which games can socialize children or involve them in the world of gambling. As ever more immersive and realistic games emerge this question is likely to increase in importance.
- It was also mentioned that children need to be supported by parents and caretakers in order to achieve a balance between exploration and safety.
Please see section 5.
Between 2015 and 2017 Thorn did research with about 3500 young people in the US. It was reported that at the beginning of online friendships a lot of participants share their handles on multiple different accounts which makes so called sextortion scenarios more likely since it is easier for an offender to target a young person on multiple platforms, not just the one they met on.
45 participants in the survey reported being contacted by offenders across multiple platforms. In 2015 specific to gaming 4% of those who had experienced sextortion reported to the gaming platform. By 2017 that doubled to 8% If the numbers have grown shall be addressed in research in 2020. The research gives evidence that one in four victims were under 12 when they were first threatened.
It also shows gaming platforms were generally more popular among 9‑year‑olds to 12‑year‑olds.
In Germany legislation is underway addressing risks of interaction and communication on online platforms.
Online gaming platforms need to be observed also in regard of profiling of children.
- At country level measures should be put in place to encourage parents to understand better what happens in gaming environments both in relation to the real costs of the games and in respect of hazards such as grooming, bullying, sexism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination.
- While at in parallel parents need to be made aware and understand the positive benefits of gaming and that children by playing games they learn and develop skills especially their social skills.
- Generally speaking, self-regulation is now widely seen as a model that has failed in the online space including in respect of gaming hence enforcing mandatory regulation is perceived as the only way forward.
- However, to avoid the risk of over-regulation the online games industry needs to be much more transparent with their consumers and the chid rights community about the realities of what is happening to children in gaming environments.
Roughly 100 participants with 50% being female.
Gender aspects were addressed in regard of research giving evidence of significantly more boys than girls are playing games. While the issue of online grooming is more often discussed in relation to girls while the risk of being groomed in online games might probably more often occur with boys.