Five rights to change the internet
The internet, more than any other technology, has created vast opportunities for children and young people to learn, communicate and explore. But along with the huge benefits come new challenges and risks.
What is iRights?
iRights is a coalition of charities, educational bodies and businesses representing millions of children, young people and adults, who have signed up to five rights that they believe should set the standards for dealing with children and young people online.
The five iRights create a framework that aim to affect how governments, corporations, adults, parents and young people behave online.
The ambition is that digital technologies will in the future be designed and delivered with children and young people in mind. Children and young people should have the freedom and confidence to access the internet creatively, knowledgeably and fearlessly.
Many parents have signed up individually to iRights. You can join them and sign up to receive news on the iRights website.
What are the five iRights?
1. The right to remove
iRights believes children and young people should have the right to remove data and content they have created on any internet platform or service. Also that this should be easy and straightforward.
Experiments are an essential part of growing up but the internet never forgets and never corrects. Mistakes, unhappiness and old attitudes are saved long after they have faded from the memory of family and friends. This means that the past lives on, leaving an outdated public record.
The right to remove doesn’t mean that young people would have an automatic right to delete data or content that was written or produced by others. The young person’s right must be balanced by freedom of speech - but young people should be able to resolve disputes easily without going to court.
Under-18s should own the content they have created, and be able to retract, correct and dispute online data that refers to themselves.
2. The right to know
Children and young people should have the right to know who is holding or profiting from their information, what it is being used for and whether it is being copied, sold or traded.
Terms and conditions (Ts&Cs) for online services are usually long and complex. It’s unlikely anyone under the age of 18 understands them. Reliance on tick-boxes tells young people that their personal information has little or no value.
If that were true, no one would bother collecting it. As it is, data gathering transfers rights from the user to the provider, often forever. Children and young people routinely share information online without understanding the consequences.
Children and young people should only be asked to hand over personal data when they can understand what they are doing. Terms and conditions should be written so they can understand them.
3. The right to safety and support
If something is illegal, it should not be online and can be reported to the police. But not every harm is illegal.
Children have to learn how to stay safe online by managing risk.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child makes clear that children require special safeguards, care, and appropriate legal protection from adults.
Online, too, children should be entitled to education, support, guidance and representation. They should receive the right levels of adult protection for their age, with common support and safety frameworks that young people can easily understand.
4. The right to make informed and conscious choices
Children should be free to be creative and to participate online but also have the chance to disengage when they want.
Attention is the currency of the internet.1 Many online sites deliberately use ‘reward technologies’ to hold attention and discourage people from leaving.
Checking for messages, for progress in a game, or just ‘feeling the need’ to click can contribute to children’s being distracted in the classroom or at home.
Children and young people need to know that their attention has value. They need to know the costs of the exchange.
They should be able to work, play and participate in the web’s creative spaces without having their attention held unknowingly.
Commercial considerations in the design of software should be balanced against the needs of young people to disengage during a period of their lives when they are developing.
5. The right to digital literacy
Every child has a right to an education and, in the 21st century, that means that young people should be educated not just as users and consumers of digital technologies but as makers, who are confident and skilled enough to create websites, apps, games and other materials.
Children need to be helped not to be left behind by technology. They need to understand its potential and how it is structured and to be confident in ways of using it. They should be guided to interpret, understand and deal with it.
For more information on how iRights plans to establish a framework for online life, see the iRights website.
1Tim Berners-Lee, speaking at The Web We Want, 14 May 2014