Improving safety online means listening to new voices
NetSafe CEO Martin Cocker looks at the need to listen to ‘non-expert’ voices to re-shape the online safety equation, and the unique role NetHui can play in achieving that.
Harm is lost benefit
Any new technology has the potential to do good (digital opportunities) and harm (digital challenges). On the end of those harms are real people losing their money, their privacy, and their dignity.
But if we take a step back from the front line and view harm through the eyes of an economist, the net benefit of a technology can be calculated by subtracting the harm from the benefit. The less harm that technology does, the greater the net benefit.
Online safety has been based around function
In the online safety community we tend to separate digital challenges into cyber crime, cyber security, and cyber safety. Cyber safety is primarily about people and their actions online. Cyber security is defined by its technological component, whilst cyberc rime requires a criminal act. Agencies and organisations in each area develop separate strategies to combat their specific challenges.
Those separate strategies have not worked very well. Rates of negative experience continue to climb. Huge sums of money exit the country because of online scams. Very few consumers and small businesses employ thorough cyber security practices – and many are suffering losses as a result. Online harassment is rife. The list goes on.
Agencies from each sphere have strengths that reflect their origin. As they get drawn into overlapping areas, they require the ‘other’ set of skills. And it is in the overlapping areas where agencies are least comfortable that the truly difficult challenges exist.
It is no surprise that the average law enforcement, cyber security, or cyber safety expert wants to work within their sphere of knowledge. This separate safety/security/crime approach encourages these experts to see the world from the perspective of the challenge, rather than the people they are looking to serve.
Online safety programmes should be built around the people they are trying to serve
The average Internet user doesn’t draw a distinction between cyber crime, cyber security, and cyber safety challenges. When we’re thinking about the response, perhaps we shouldn’t either.
It makes much more sense to build our response starting with the people we are trying to help. Each person has a particular mix of skills, technologies, and challenges – and the ideal response would be matched to that. It is not possible (yet) to construct a personal safety package for every Internet user but we can combine them together into groups that have similar profiles.
If you speak to a group of parents of young children, you will hear common concerns and complaints. It’s the same with a group of teenagers, retirees, or small business owners.
Once we understand their common needs, then we can build a response using all the tools available to us.
The “three Es” are the tools available to us
The three E’s of public health response are Education, Enforcement, and Engineering. A strong response uses all three pillars effectively. Online safety is no exception.
Where online safety differs is in the relative effectiveness of each pillar. Whereas road safety benefits greatly from enforcement and engineering interventions, online safety is disproportionately reliant on education.
Nevertheless, the best possible online safety programme will include all three pillars delivered in a coordinated way by a range of stakeholders.
Effective online safety is multi-stakeholder
Most effective safety programmes are multi-stakeholder. We often look to the government to solve public safety problems, but the car building industry makes a huge contribution to road safety and not-for-profit surf live-saving clubs patrol our dangerous beaches. Industry and NGOs can play a key role in online safety, and often the best option for government is to empower them to do so, rather than directly delivering responses.
But the key to using a multi-stakeholder approach is understanding what functions are best delivered by each sector. That means agencies need to accept there is some work they should do, and some that they should leave to others. That’s something that is often easier to do in theory than in practice!
NetHui can make a special contribution to online safety
Once you become an expert in a subject, you can never again see that topic through the eyes of a non-expert. NetHui is one of the few conferences that deliberately brings non-experts into conversations alongside experts.
Still, I think even at NetHui, non-technical people tend to shy away from workshops with “cyber security” in the title.
Whilst you may not be an expert on the subject, you can provide a perspective an expert cannot – and one that needs to be heard. Your contributions could be far more significant than you think.
As part of its commitment to being a safe space both online and off, NetHui has released a code of conduct for the event.