Safer Internet Day: we must keep building an internet we can trust

By Marc Allera, CEO of BT Group’s Consumer division

The virtual nature of all our lives at the moment makes internet safety more important than ever. The way we all rely on technology to stay in touch with each other, educate and entertain ourselves means keeping young people safe online has to be a top priority.

At BT, we’re more focused than ever before on doing what we do best: keeping everyone connected at an extraordinary time. Our purpose is to Connect for Good, which means, we have a responsibility to do all we can – alongside parents and teachers – to help young people stay safe when they’re using the internet.

They trust technology to keep them connected at this extraordinary time. The theme for today is An Internet We Trust, with a focus on how young people deal with misleading content online. As the father of three young boys, that’s important to me as not only a CEO, but a parent too, because I can see first-hand how technology is helping them to keep up with their lives.

At BT we recognise the challenges that families are facing. We have all had to adapt. But it’s particularly challenging for young people who feel they are missing out on so much while we are forced to be apart. In research we conducted with parents earlier this year, we found that:

• 72% said Covid had made their children more reliant on technology

• 61% of parents worry about the safety and security of their children online

• 83% of parents believe it is important for their children to learn digital skills to help them thrive in the future

• Only 45% know where to access resources to help their children develop these skills

BT has an important role in helping young people explore and enjoy the online world safely. So we have committed to helping in four key ways:

1. We have a range of tools to help you keep your family safe, including Set up Safe – which helps our EE customers easily set up parental controls when buying a phone for a child. BT Halo, meanwhile, enables our BT broadband customers to pause WiFi and control screen time on each connected device. It’s a more effective method than the man who took his router for a walk in the Peak District when his children refused to join him!

2. Second, in partnership with Internet Matters, which we co-founded in 2014, our Skills for Tomorrow programme offers a wide range of advice for parents and families on managing online risks and supporting children’s digital wellbeing. Our ambition with Skills for Tomorrow is to help 10 million develop the skills they need to make the most of life in the digital world.

3. For Safer Internet Day – as part of our Barefoot Computing programme in partnership with Computing at School – we have launched a new interactive game to help teach children about the risks of online scams through play. In this game children explore an underwater world, learning about some of the common techniques used by online criminals and how they can protect themselves from falling prey to the ‘Phisherman’.

I recently read a story about a young student who changed his name on Zoom to ‘reconnecting’ so that he wouldn’t have to answer any questions in his online lessons. It’s a reminder that things are not always as they seem online!

4. We know that for some children, however, just getting online in the first place can be a challenge – particularly during a pandemic for families without adequate access to connectivity.

So last month we launched BT’s ‘Lockdown Learning’ support scheme. In partnership with the Department for Education, we’re offering free unlimited mobile data for families and carers supporting children who need it most. Schools can also apply for free WiFi vouchers for pupils without connectivity. These vouchers will provide access to 5 million BT WiFi hotspots across the UK. And we’ve zero-rated BBC Bitesize and Oak Academy educational websites – enabling everyone to access them, even if they have run out of data.

Our job’s far from finished, however. We know there is still more we can all do to help keep children connected and safe online. This is something we need to work together on across our industry, and with government and the third sector.

We welcome the Government’s work to provide a robust regulatory framework through the Online Harms Bill, which will provide helpful guiderails. Within those, our industry can continue to evolve its approach to protect the most vulnerable internet users, including children.

Part of building An Internet We Trust is listening to young people and their views on what a safer internet means for them. That’s what I’m most looking forward to on Safer Internet Day, because it should be a platform for young people, too.

So I will sign off by asking two things. For the young people out there: keep connecting with each other, and keep showing the resilience and kindness online that you’ve shown over the past year.

And for families, carers, industry and government: work with us at BT to help young people connect to the things that matter the most. And, most importantly, to help them do so safely.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @marcallera