AI and Child-safety on the Internet

AI and Child-safety on the Internet

At a time when artificial intelligence (AI) stands at the crossroads between believers and those who feel it is a waste of time, here’s something that would warm the cockles of those who are in the former category. A regulator in the UK wants to use AI to battle malicious content on the internet, especially those involving children. 

Such a move, coming as it does from an agency that owes allegiance to a government, should be good news for those who believe that AI should not be reined in by law and be allowed to find its own levels. In this case, Ofcom, the British regulator that enforces the country’s Online Safety Act, believes there is scope for AI to help clean up the internet. 

Media reports suggest that Ofcom would be launching a consultation program around how AI and other automated tools available today can be used to detect and remove illegal content on the internet. Especially those that target children with harmful stuff and seeks to identify child sex abuse and material that is currently tough to locate. 

Loss of innocence and childhood at a young age

In fact, the regulator had recently come out with a research document that suggests a stronger connection among younger users than ever before. The report noted that kids as young as between 3-4 years were already online (about 84% of them) while a quarter of those in the 5-to-7 age range already possessed a smartphone. 

According to data provided by Statista, the average time spent each day by children on social media, OTT platforms and online games last September is an eye-opener. It said about 46% of urban parents reported that their children spent 3-6 hours each day. Another 15% said their  kids spent more than six hours using online media every day.

A report published by the Deccan Herald quoted a study by CRY titled, POCSO and Beyond: Understanding Online Safety during COVID and in 2023 that Maharashtra topped with the highest average of internet consumption across all the age groups followed by West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and then Karnataka. 

Children between 6-14 years showed higher average usage of the internet in Maharashtra compared to other stages. They also confessed to experiencing cyberbullying and receiving friend requests from unknown individuals online, particularly from Snapchat, which seemed more popular on this front compared to Instagram and Facebook. 

What is Ofcom seeking to achieve now?

The UK regulator plans to introduce tools that form part of a broader set aimed to make children safe. They have set up consultations with stakeholders to develop a set of proposals with Ofcom’s Online Safety Group Director Mark Bunting noting that the first step is to understand how well AI is being used now as a screening tool. 

While some services already have such screening mechanisms, their efficacy and accuracy isn’t immediately available. The idea behind these discussions is to suggest tools that platforms can potentially use and the regulator can then impose fines on those that do not use them. These tools must block content from specific age groups, says Ofcom.  

Given that parental guidance, which works with OTT platforms and satellite television as parents can set the controls as well, doesn’t always work on the internet, regulators across the world agree that online safety needs to be the responsibility of platform owners. For this purpose, Ofcom wants to make recommendations. 

Without doubt, these moves could raise a few hackles as well as soothe ruffled feathers elsewhere. AI researchers are seeking to find deep fakes and also identifying users online. However, there are those who believe AI isn’t failproof and believe that efforts of Ofcom may not result in anything tangible. 

But then, that’s how the cookie crumbles. Nobody is in doubt that the internet has created a knowledge economy or that like anything so powerful, it has its own share of challenges in the form of cybercrime. That a government-backed regulator is looking at exploring AI use cases to clean up the internet is itself a big plus for those who swear by this technology. 

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