Deadline for online industry to protect children

Child with security icon. | Newsreel
The online industry has been set a deadline to establish codes to protect children from seeing pornography. | Photo: Fotosipsak (iStock)

The online industry has six months to create codes to protect children from pornography or have standards set for them.

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has issued notices to key members of the online industry to come up with enforceable codes that will protect children from graphic pornography and other high-impact content.

Ms Inman Grant said the codes would focus on preventing young children from encountering material they were not ready to see and were too young to understand, while also empowering Australian internet users with options to manage their exposure to certain online material.

“While they will focus on pornography, the codes will also be expected to cover other high-impact material including themes of suicide and serious illness, which could include self-harm and disordered eating.”

Ms Inman Grant said the codes would cover app stores and apps, websites (including porn websites), search engines, social media services, hosting services, internet service providers, instant messaging, SMS, chat, multi-player gaming, online dating services and equipment providers.

“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.

“We know kids will always be curious and will likely seek out porn as they enter adolescence and explore their sexuality, so, many of these measures are really focused on preventing unintentional exposure to young children.”

Ms Inman Grant said it was not just porn sites being addressed, as 60 percent of young people were exposed to pornography on social media.

“This exposure was often unintentional and happened on popular services including TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat,” she said.

“The last thing anyone wants is children seeing violent or extreme pornography without guidance, context or the appropriate maturity levels because they may think that a video showing a man aggressively choking a woman during sex on a porn site is what consent, sex and healthy relationships should look like.”

She said while parents and carers had a key role to play both from a protective and educative standpoint, the industry needed to play its part by putting in effective barriers to protect children.

“This could include reasonable efforts to check users’ age, and complementary measures including default safety measures and parental controls, as well as user empowerment tools to filter or blur unwanted sexual content.”

Ms Inman Grant said industry bodies must present a preliminary draft of the codes by October 3, with final codes for registration provided by December 19.

“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,” she said.

“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.”