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Keeping children safe in a digital world

Egmont's Safe Internet initiative is to prevent online bullying and apps that run up sky-high bills.

Time to relax after a hard day's work. The kids have been picked up and handed the iPad. Peace reigns. But letting the kids spend time playing games on the tablet or phone or logging on to online communities and social media networks is not without its hazards.

In 2011 an eight-year-old boy managed to spend DKK 10,500 playing a Smurf game on his iPod. Smurf's Village, as the game is called, is free to install, but once installed, the game gives players the opportunity to buy 'Smurfberries' that they can use to advance further in the game. When the boy's parents realised their son's play was leading them to financial ruin, they contacted Apple, who refunded most of the money after a few weeks' wait.

It is not unusual for free apps to charge real money for in-app currency, but children should not be able to effortlessly blow thousands of kroner on a game. In 2012 Egmont launched 205 apps, and children and young people must be able to safely use Egmont's digital worlds. Similarly, parents should be able to hand over their iPads to their children without having to break into a sweat or feel chronic paranoia at the thought of the astronomical phone bill that might lie in wait at the end of the month.

Safe Internet

The world of apps is only one example of the developments in the digital world. We often hear that the world has shrunk. Clichéed perhaps, but nonetheless a reality. It has made it easier for users to meet each other, which is both good and bad. Good in that children and young people can make friends and connections across physical distances and different backgrounds. Bad in that individuals with illicit intentions have a larger, more anonymous interface to play with. For this reason, Egmont has made Safe Internet a focus area of its social responsibility.

"In the same way that we are responsible for making safe physical products we have a responsibility to create safe digital products. We need to make sure that the content younger users encounter is age-appropriate."

explains Sam Mawson, project manager of Safe Internet. Together with his colleagues he has drawn up Egmont's guidelines for online safety and good practice. Consisting of six principles, the guidelines are Egmont's way of helping provide safe and responsible online services. Every Egmont employee involved with digital publications for children must comply with the principles and ensure they are put into practice.

Safer Internet Day

One of the items on the programme of principles concerns raising awareness about internet safety among children and young people. Egmont UK does this in part by taking part in the annual 'Safer Internet Day' – an international project held once a year and aimed to promote safer use of online technology and mobile phones, especially among children and young people.

"To support our participation in the 2013 Safer Internet Day we published some easy to remember safe surfing tips in two of our kids magazines. Our digital publishing director Steph Gauld was also interviewed on the safe internet day online radio show. We are already looking at what we can do for the 2014 event" says Sam Mawson.

Apart from raising awareness about safe internet conduct, Egmont wants to make sure children and young people do not come across inappropriate content on Egmont's pages. But this is not without its challenges.

"When you create a product that allows people to publish their own content or interact with each other you can never be totally sure that the content they encounter is appropriate. This is why strong moderation and reporting tools are so important in helping us to remove inappropriate content.", Sam Mawson explains. He is deeply committed to giving Egmont's young users a safe internet experience, and the aim of the Safe Internet project is for Egmont's online worlds to be safe places to spend time, now and in the future.