Smartphone users in India crossed 500 million in 2019 as reported by techARC, and this number is only expected to increase manifold in the coming years. Thanks to more affordable devices and laudable government initiatives such as BharatNet (as announced during the Union Budget), accessibility of internet and digital literacy in every household is no longer a far-sighted reality. A study by Global Web Index shows that Indians across age groups are already spending about two and a half hours daily on social media. At the same time, the risks that are posed by the internet are peaking, and it is only getting more and more complex with each passing year. In such a scenario, it can be overwhelming for a single organisation or system to balance the ocean of opportunities offered by the internet and the safety habits it demands from users. This means that a major chunk of the responsibility resides with each user, especially parents to ensure the digital wellbeing for self, children as well as that of the larger community.
February 11, 2020 marks ‘Safer Internet Day’, an annual day to promote safe and responsible use of online technology and mobile phones.
Safeguarding digital natives online
This year, one of the themes of Safer Internet Day is “Better Internet for Kids” and indeed, there couldn’t have been a more apt issue to address on this day. Being true digital natives, the Gen Z today are more tech-savvy than millennials and the older generation where they live in an “always-on” world. Across countries, a huge number of kids, teens and young adults are indulging in online activities on a day to day basis – right from learning via apps, playing games or watching cartoon shows to even looking for dates. In fact, according to a study by the Global Web Index, 16 – 24-year olds are simply killing time on the internet and are on the hunt for the next funny meme. Furthermore, according to NortonLifeLock’s India Digital Wellness report, almost an equal percentage of Gen Z (89%) respondents indulge in online shopping as their Gen X (90%) counterparts. Also, a higher percentage of Gen Z (67%) respondents indulge in e-wallet transfers than Gen X (63%).
This heightened internet activity from children places them at more risk than adults from cyber criminals. Owing to their innocence, curiosity or unawareness of the gravity of the problem of cybercrime, it is easier for children to fall prey to cybercriminals who are out there to exploit, steal and blackmail. During a global study conducted across 16 countries by NortonLifeLock, half of parents with children aged 5-17 reported that their child has had a negative online experience, including downloading a malicious program or virus (24%), found looking at inappropriate content (23%), or being bullied or harassed (13%). Unfortunately, the NortonLifeLock report found that parents don’t seem to know that cybercrime is not an adult-only problem and more than half (56%) were unaware that children can be victims of identity theft too.
This places a huge responsibility on parents, educators, guardians to be aware of the potential cyber threats such as cyber-bullying, transaction frauds, identity thefts etc., and ensure appropriate education is given to teenagers, both within households and at educational institutes. We need to move fast from this stage into a state of complete awareness of the digital footprint of our children.
On the occasion, parents and guardians can follow simple tips to keep children cyber safe:
Ritesh Chopra is Country Director, NortonLifelock. Views expressed are personal.