On Thursday, November 21st, the Family Online Safety Institute hosted its 2019 Annual Conference, entitled "2020 Vision: The Future of Online Safety." This event convened leaders across industry, government, academia, and the nonprofit sector to discuss a wide spectrum of topics within the areas of best practice in technology policy, digital parenting, privacy, ethics, and artificial intelligence, among many more.
Patricia Vance, President of the Entertainment Software Rating Board and Chair of the FOSI Board, opened the event. Stephen Balkam, FOSI CEO, delivered keynote remarks.
The first presentation of the day was the launch of the new whitepaper, Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. FOSI released the paper in partnership with the firm Kaleido Insights, and the presentation was conducted by analyst Jessica Groopman, who co-authored the paper. Ms. Groopman talked through the main themes of the paper, namely the need to connect the emerging technological phenomena of artificial intelligence and its implications with key actions needed to advance a culture of responsibility online across the stakeholder spectrum.
These ideas transitioned into the first plenary panel discussion of the day, a further exploration of Online Safety in an AI World, featuring additional speakers from the Aspen Institute, Intel, and the Future of Privacy Forum. The panelists considered the conclusions raised in the whitepaper, while further discussing the challenges and opportunities presented by advanced technologies in the years to come, both for industry and society.
Stephen Balkam conducted a one-to-one fireside chat with Josh Sherman, Director of Kids and Family at Amazon. They discussed the role of tech companies in creating both kid-safe products and content. Sherman referenced the “walled garden” approach Amazon has taken to curating the material that kids can access through their products, and the ways that the company has incorporated the best interests of parents and families into their approach to privacy.
Rosie and Lucy Thomas of Australia’s PROJECT ROCKIT gave a featured presentation about their organization’s approach to fighting hate and bullying online. By involving young people directly and giving them agency and ownership over their digital lives, PROJECT ROCKIT seeks to empower youth to be upstanders online, showing kindness and compassion to create a sense of positive, supportive community on social media.
The morning’s keynote address came from Federal Trade Commissioner Christine S. Wilson. The Commissioner discussed legislation, the upcoming potential changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and the need to be strong and proactive around keeping kids safe online. She also discussed her family’s personal experience with tech use and online bullying, emphasizing the need for kids to learn about digital citizenship at home first, with the involvement of parents.
Morning breakout sessions explored a diverse set of topics. A panel focused on privacy and COPPA further explored the state of online safety legislation, self-regulatory efforts, safe harbors, and education technology. A forward-thinking look at the future of new technologies and corporate social responsibility convened a panel of industry experts who discussed parental controls, age verification, and the many challenges of digital parenting. Shining a Light on The Dark Corners of the Web highlighted the achievements and ongoing challenges of those working to combat illegal material online in the law enforcement community. Additionally, a panel of high school teens participated in a live recording of the podcast Their Own Devices, conducted by experts Marc Groman and David Reitman.
Afternoon breakout sessions featured a panel on digital play, It’s Play Time! which convened top names in the toys and gaming industry such as Mattel, Roblox, LEGO, and Sesame Workshop, with moderation by Boston Children’s Hospital. Is Being Online Time Well Spent? addressed digital wellbeing from the perspectives of Google, ESRB, Crisis Text Line, and the psychology field. Panelists covered how individuals and families can work to find a healthy tech balance using the tools and controls available to them, and how technology is intertwined with aspects of mental health. What is the Research Telling Us? convened top thinkers in the research space from the Oxford Internet Institute and the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin, along with AT&T and Microsoft, to dive into the latest online safety reports. Topics included online safety legislation (particularly CAMRA), product design and the way it may change how kids interact with entertainment technology, and trends in social media use among teens.
In the final plenary panel of the day, representatives from NetSafe New Zealand, Twitter, GSMA, the Mercatus Center, and the App Association discussed The Future of Online Safety Policy, taking an international look at the impact of online safety policies such as Europe’s GDPR and Section 230 in the US. The strengths and weaknesses of algorithms were discussed, as well as the need for strategic and forward-looking approaches to content moderation and crisis response for online platforms.
Family Toolbox in a Digital Age featured a one-to-one chat between Antigone Davis, Facebook’s Global Head of Online Safety, and Mimi Ito of University California Irvine and the Connected Learning Lab. In addition to reiterating the need to protect kids online, Davis and Ito’s session expanded on the many opportunities that kids benefit from in their digital lives, specifically the ability to connect with others that share their passions and to have a space in which to create meaningful community. Their discussion also covered the need for parents in particular to take part and listen to what is happening in their kids’ digital lives as a way to connect with them.
The final session of the day featured a presentation by author and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, who spoke about the themes of her new book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day Per Week. Shlain was then joined by Mary Jordan of The Washington Post for a discussion about the social and personal implications of heavy screen use and our highly connected lives: what we benefit from, and what we can improve by taking a more critical look at how, why, and when we pick up our devices.
Videos from the plenary sessions and presentations can be viewed on FOSI's YouTube channel.