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A Safer Internet: Leveraging the Power of Legislation to Harness the Benefits of Technology with Australian eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant

Just over 20 years ago, the mere notion of regulating the Internet - initially a research tool - didn’t cross anyone’s mind. As the world transitioned into the digital era, Proactive Policy Makers have bravely navigated the uncharted waters of the technological world.

In this episode of the Brand Safety Exchange, our host, Tiffany Xingyu Wang, engages Australia’s trailblazing eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, in an informative conversation that explores the evolution of online safety, policies and the regulation thereof. With 22 years of experience in the technological industry, “poacher turned game-keeper,” Julie candidly delves into the origins of global governmental policies and how working with the tech sector to curate multi-faceted legislation, continually strengthens its commitment to keeping global citizens safer online. 

Collaboration As The Key To Tackling Biggest Internet Harms Head-on

Julie brings a compelling notion to the fore as she emphasizes the need for collaboration between the tech industry and government policymakers to tackle the biggest harms on the Internet. It is this unmatched focus on creating a safer internet that has resulted in the eSafety Commissioner’s success in removing up to 85% of image-based abuse, and a 90% success rate in dealing with cyberbullying. 

Public tragedy within the borders of Australia spurred the outcry against the lack of policy while obliging the government to actively work on eliminating cyberbullying and while platforms and technology certainly stimulate interactions, it is humans who are misbehaving and humans who should be held accountable. Julie highlights that demonizing technology is certainly not the aim. What is apparent is that the preventative measures that are proving sustainable and effective, all centre on the idea of Safety by Design.

Prevention Through Safety by Design

Julie furthers the conversation by reiterating that cultivating and maintaining trust, particularly in more vulnerable online communities, requires disruptive thinking. It entails staying ahead of tech trends and challenges, anticipating technological risk and assessing how platforms may be weaponized. While it has undertaken the leading role in creating safer, more positive experiences online, the office of the eSafety Commissioner handles the delicate act of balancing a gamut of fundamental rights. Realistically it cannot take on the internet of the world, however, the eSafety Commissioner’s office determinedly arms their citizens with the best information possible about how they can utilize empowerment tools to better protect themselves. 

The eSafety’s innovative approaches include family programmes that teach parents to engage in their children’s online lives through setting parental controls and teaching kindness, respect and the benefits of making good choices. Parents need to understand that their children (who are particularly at risk) will certainly face some sort of internet harm. One of the programmes imparts knowledge to school-going children, on building resilience and critical reasoning skills to help children discern between fact and fiction or ascertain whether someone is grooming them, for instance. Julie references other unique programmes, like the Be Connected (for Senior Citizens) & eSafety Women programmes, that address the needs of various communities.

Succinctly, Safety By Design calls for companies to adopt an approach that ultimately makes good business sense. It is a call for companies to assess their risk upfront and avoid the “tech wreck” which could create unprecedented reputational damage while being a costly exercise.

Developing Policy Together

Part of Julie’s incredible journey has led her to bridge the divide between government policymakers and technology companies, bringing them together to develop a set of three principles which explore: 

  • What service provider responsibility entails
  • What good user empowerment and autonomy look like
  • How to be more radical about transparency and accountability rather than being selective about transparency

While it may be tempting to vilify brands or CEOs, Julie notes that these companies are comprised of good people who believed in the promises of the internet and who still believe in garnering the benefits of technology while diligently working to provide safer platforms for the citizens of the world. 

Key Lessons to Amplify Brand Safety

  • Legislation needs to be flexible and principles-based.
  • Proactive Safety By Design is a continuous journey that needs to be incorporated from the outset in all aspects of the business.
  • Companies can only inculcate safety and trust through their culture and ethos, and this starts with leadership.
  • It takes continuous resources and focus to incorporate fundamental safety regulations and legislature, in partnership with a brand’s vast ecosystem and greater government policymakers, to create truly proactive and systemic online safety solutions. 

Watch the full interview below or listen and subscribe to the Brand Safety Exchange podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.