Lessons Learned From The European Commission’s MIRACLE For Online Child Protection

Letting a child run free on the internet is enough to give any parent an anxiety attack. It wasn’t that long ago – when the world was simpler and less digital – that parents could easily monitor and control the consumption of age-appropriate content for their children. If you wanted to buy a movie for your child, you could get all the information you needed from the rating label. Fast forward to today’s ever-connected world, where content is distributed via electronic networks and accessible to anyone with a mobile device or computer. How can parents know what content is suitable for their children, short of watching it themselves?

There has been growing demand for parental advisory labels on online content, as parents want their children to reap the educational and entertainment benefits of the internet. However, this raises many challenges. Who decides what content is appropriate? How should parents know what categorization is used in other countries? What might be considered culturally age-appropriate in one country might be too risqué in another. Where is the clear, cross-border indication in an age where content is global?

Forging a path through online data classification challenges

The digitalization of parental advisory labels is stuck in the very early stages of development. There is no extensive use of digital parental advisory labels yet – especially on the open internet. Providers of online content and services face highly fragmented systems of age classification, depending on country, region and type of medium. So the European Commission (EC) decided to come up with a solution to this problem: the MIRACLE.

The goal of the MIRACLE project is to provide a common information exchange reference model that enables cross-border, machine-readable classification data and age labels by content providers, filter software solution providers, and users. By making existing label approaches and classification schemes technologically universal to optimize established classification knowledge and data, this will not only result in cost synergies for content and filter software solution providers, but also enable new innovative services in providing classification data. It was important for the project consortium to spread across different member states and systems, and to include classification bodies, safer internet nodes, self-regulatory bodies, and filter software providers.

Who benefits? Quite a few different parties: parents, content providers, manufacturers of end devices, and all media users – essentially anyone who needs to obtain more information about the content they are about to see. And as for the amount of potential use cases, the 48-hour MIRACLE Apps Hackathon provided just a glimpse of what’s possible. There’s ENTERTAIN, an app that allows a user to find movies or games that are suitable for a certain age through a very user-friendly interface. Or CleverAge, which recognizes a high variance in child development and uses a series of emotional and logical puzzles and quizzes to determine a user’s “real” maturity, granting access to appropriate content accordingly.

As the internet becomes even more ingrained in our everyday use, it will continue to be a challenge for parents to protect their children from inappropriate content. Those looking to create a system of digital parental advisory labels would be wise to look to the EC’s MIRACLE program as a starting point.

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