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July, 2024

Online industry has six months to get its act together on shielding children from online risks: eSafety Commissioner

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner has issued a notice to key members of the online industry, giving them a six-month window to develop enforceable codes to protect children from graphic pornography and other high-impact content. The codes aim to prevent young children from encountering inappropriate material and to empower Australian internet users with options to manage their exposure to certain online material.

The codes will cover a wide range of online platforms and services, including app stores, websites, search engines, social media services, hosting services, internet service providers, instant messaging, SMS, chat, multi-player gaming, online dating services, and equipment providers.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant highlighted the pervasiveness of pornography in today’s online world, noting that children are often exposed to it by accident and at increasingly younger ages. “Our own research shows that while the average age when Australian children first encounter pornography is around 13, a third of these children are actually seeing this content younger and often by accident,” said Inman Grant.

Research shows that 60% of young people reported being exposed to pornography on social media, often unintentionally, on popular services including TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. “And it’s not just porn sites we are talking about here, with 60 per cent of young people telling us they were exposed to pornography on social media. This exposure was often unintentional and happened on popular services including TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat,” Inman Grant added.

The eSafety Commissioner suggested measures such as age checks, default safety measures, parental controls, and user empowerment tools to filter or blur unwanted sexual content. Industry bodies must present a preliminary draft of the codes to the eSafety Commissioner by 3 October 2024, and then provide final codes for registration no later than 19 December 2024. A public consultation on the codes is also required.

“We want industry to succeed here and we will work with them to help them come up with codes that provide meaningful protections for children,” Inman Grant stated. She also warned that if any code should fall short, she has the power to set the rules by moving to standards. “However, if any code should fall short, under the Online Safety Act I have the power to set the rules for them by moving to standards.”

eSafety has published a Position Paper to assist the industry with the development of the codes and to ensure there is a clear, shared understanding of eSafety’s expectations.