NCSA Board of Directors Vice Chair
Today, the phrase “cyber security” prompts conversations at both the kitchen table and the boardroom table. That’s noticeable progress, considering it’s been just 10 years since the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) launched its first awareness month in October 2003—a 31-day effort designed to raise the public consciousness about the need for safer habits and practices online.
While a few things are clear—for instance, more people know what to do to help secure their computing devices and personal data, some risky behaviors persist that may still leave individuals vulnerable. As a result, the panelists agreed more can be done on the part of all participants—individual consumers, businesses, organizations, and government.
The Internet is an extraordinary tool for enabling children to learn and explore the world around them. Many parents and educators recognize that “digital literacy” is a prerequisite to helping students excel in today’s digital world. That’s why I want to help spread the word about a new Microsoft initiative, Bing for Schools, to help teach these essential online skills.
Bing For Schools offers the option to tailor the Bing experience by removing advertisements from search results, enhancing privacy protections, filtering adult content, and adding specialized learning features that help develop positive online behaviors.
As noted in a recent post, I spent the spring months on a “listening tour.” I spoke with prominent individuals both inside and outside of Microsoft, seeking opinions and insights to help inform the strategy and approach for my new role. While my position and title may be new for the company—and the industry, the commitment to Internet safety is not.
Taking into account the risks stemming from content, contact, conduct, and commerce (“The Four Cs”), a concept I shared in the first part of this post, I’ll focus this second half on how the online safety risk-landscape has evolved, current trends, and where we’re likely headed next.
When I officially assumed my new role this spring, I began a “listening tour” with the goal of further shaping Microsoft’s impact in helping to create safer, more trusted online experiences for individuals and families. I’ve spoken with—actually interviewed—dozens of influential people both inside and outside Microsoft, in the U.S. and around the world, who have chosen to make Internet safety their life’s work. Eighty-five conversations later (and counting), I’ve been gathering perspectives as to the current state of global online safety, the evolving risk-landscape, current hot topics, and where we may be headed next.
In this first of a two-part blog, I’d like to share some of those themes, including insightful reflections from my interviewees, as well as offer a few thoughts about the discipline of online safety at Microsoft.
One place to start is with a definition. When I asked experts how they define online safety, I was often met with quizzical stares or silence on the other end of the telephone line. Indeed, people who focus on online safety, or have even a portion of it as part of their day-job, know and understand what it means. But, to others, it might not be as clear. I often invoked the now-famous phrase coined by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who in 1964 was attempting to define a threshold for obscenity: We, in online safety, “know it when (we) see it.” But, to actually articulate some strictures for the field proved somewhat more challenging.
“You can’t cook unless you’re in the kitchen; you can’t swim unless you’re in the pool, and you can’t teach kids about digital citizenship without having a conversation with them about online safety.” These are the words of Anne Collier, co-founder of Connectsafely.org, shared last week with school administrators, educators, parents, safety advocates, and industry leaders at the Digital Citizenship Summit held at Microsoft’s Mountain View, California campus.
The goal of the Summit was to galvanize key stakeholders and stimulate proactive conversations about how we must all come together to help teach responsible and appropriate use of technology, what Microsoft and others call fostering digital citizenship.
Many schools do not teach or have access to a comprehensive, in-classroom online safety curriculum, even though experts and many Internet safety organizations identify education as an effective means of helping to protect children from online risks. Microsoft believes online safety curricula should be an integral part of a school’s efforts to achieve technological literacy for its students, particularly as more students use mobile devices, including at school. Indeed, data show 52 percent of youth ages eight to 12, and 77 percent between 12 and 17, own mobile phones.
Almost 46 percent of Internet users are going online to find a job, according to recent data. That total nearly doubles when it comes to hiring managers using the Internet to screen prospective candidates.
Increasingly, such statistics, coupled with conversations about online reputation – like the one at last week’s 2013 FOSI European Forum – continue to show that in today’s digital world, online information is just as important as an individual’s past employment history.
Held in Dublin and sponsored by The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), last week’s event brought together some 150 representatives from government, including Frances Fitzgerald, the Irish Minister for Children and Youth Affairs; industry leaders from companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter the education sector, civil society, and the advocacy community to discuss, “The Year of the Digital Citizen: Online Safety, Data Protection, and Privacy.”
It was a question and comment from an audience member that sparked additional conversation, and underscored for me and others the ongoing need to attentively safeguard one’s digital reputation.