Internet has had an undeniably profound and positive impact in Asia, and will continue to do so as the expansion of infrastructure sees a digital future for all in this region. At the same time, cyberspace undoubtedly presents a double-edged sword. Risks abound online, many of them threatening the most vulnerable among us, namely children. Data from the Boston Consulting Group on internet use among children in thirteen countries show that eight percent may have unknowingly subscribed to commercial services, one in 10 has potentially been subject to personal data misuse, and one in five potentially exposed to harmful contents.
For these reasons, coupled with a lack of awareness as to the positive value of internet, some parents in Asia have exhibited reluctance to embrace the technology. While their caution is understandable, by limiting their children's exposure to cyberspace they also inadvertently restrict their access to the life-changing positive possibilities offered by internet.
With Safer Internet Day on February 10, now is the time for a region-wide discussion on how to keep kids safe on internet. Telenor is committed to safe internet for all, and as part of this, will be releasing a Safe Internet Book in the coming months to provide parents with the tools to keep their children safe in cyberspace. Drawing on Telenor's global and regional expertise in transforming societies through connectivity, the book details simple techniques that parents with little or no experience of internet can use to ensure that their children's time spent online is positive, productive, and safe.
What do we recommend? Above all, building resilience rather than restricting access. Children will access internet, with or without their parents, and it thus is important to create rules that acknowledge that children can't be monitored at all times. This process can be facilitated by setting time limits to usage, and age limits and security measures on devices. Keep internet-enabled devices in sight, in order to avoid inappropriate use. Check browser history to keep abreast of what your children are seeing online, and make sure they always log out.
Fundamentally, keeping kids safe online is about communication, and thus it is important to start the conversation about online risks. Basic ground rules like protecting passwords and personal information should become second nature. Also, know the right questions to ask: parents should familiarise themselves with the online landscape, and know what risks are presented by what platforms.
We estimate that an overwhelming majority of an estimated 500 million children in emerging Asia markets will be accessing internet for the first time via mobile in the coming decade. Within the next three years alone, Telenor expects up to 85 million children will be introduced to internet via mobile in its global markets.
As operators we have a responsibility to ensure children's safety on internet, and Telenor works with multiple stakeholders to deliver on that commitment. With other leading ICT players, including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, we are partners in the European Commission's CEO Coalition to make internet a better place for kids. We have worked with Interpol to become the first mobile operator in the world to introduce safety and child pornography filters for mobile phones, and we have joined industry forces to drive the establishment of the GSM Association's Mobile Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Content.
We firmly believe the opportunities presented by internet outweigh the dangers, but all stakeholders – including parents, educators, regulators and telecoms operators – must commit to ensuring that our children are safe online.
The writer is executive vice president and head of Asia Operations, Telenor Group.