Making terms and conditions accessible to young people with the BIK Youth Ambassadors

In February 2020, a group of six Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Youth Ambassadors marked Safer Internet Day (SID) by hosting a dialogue with industry members from the Alliance to better protect minors online at the European Commission (EC) on the age appropriateness of apps and services' privacy information for children and young people. Below, three of them – Matej, Kathrin and Charampoulos – look back on their experience and share their aspirations.

In preparation for that meeting, the six BIK Youth Ambassadors had been working on a Youth Pledge for a Better Internet, a youth-led initiative aiming to ensure that online platforms and services – and in particular their privacy policies – are designed in an age appropriate way that truly meets the developmental needs of children and young people.

When asked about why they deem this issue so important and necessary to tackle, all BIK Youth Ambassadors emphasised that the legibility of online platforms' terms and conditions is an issue for a wide-ranging public – not just for the youth. They also emphasised that making privacy policies more transparent and accessible is a matter of consumer rights protection and digital citizenship education. Matěj, BIK Youth Ambassador from the Czech Republic, described the issue accurately: "on the one hand, the age from which children can create accounts on these platforms goes as low as 13 in a lot of European countries, and on the other, there is a long document, written in a complicated legal language, that even adult native speakers cannot sometimes fully understand. I would say that it's just fair enough for all users to expect being provided with information about the product they are using in an understandable way, just like, for example, products you buy in a store. Despite this initiative targeting youth a lot, I personally think all age groups would benefit from the improvements we're proposing."

Kathrin, BIK Youth Ambassador from Germany, echoed this by saying that "it is important to have responsible internet users. This is only possible if they are fully informed and educated. Since children usually do not read and understand terms and conditions, apart from the fact that many adults do not do so either, it is important to explain them in an easy way. This way, one contributes to the maturity of the users." Charampoulos, BIK Youth Ambassador from Greece, added that "we cannot expect a young person to be able to understand terms and conditions that even an experienced adult struggles with; we cannot serve teenagers personalised ads that they cannot critically process. And it's the responsibility of governments and online platforms to respect every user and build their services and products around the people and not the opposite."

A lot of work went into preparing the Youth Pledge for a Better Internet – ahead of the meeting, the BIK Youth Ambassadors carried out a mapping of recent research and youth consultation work from across the Insafe network of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs) and shared thoughts and ideas via online calls and other collaboration tools. They then met face-to-face at the European Schoolnet (EUN) offices in Brussels, Belgium. That is when, as Charampoulos put it, they "started brainstorming on what is crucial for the youth sector now. The respective ages and countries of origin played an important role in how they framed the issue." The BIK Youth Ambassadors then decided, according to Matěj, to break down their main message into two pillars: "one of them being age appropriate privacy settings on online platforms, the other one is about explaining the terms and conditions of the services in an easy way." After this preparatory work at EUN, the six young people headed to the European Commission (EC), where they met representatives of the Alliance to better protect minors online. For Matěj, "the event in Brussels was just an opportunity to give the corporations a rough idea about the issues we want to lead dialogues about in the future."

Their session was very well received by attendees from all backgrounds – industry, policy makers, and civil society organisations – an impression which the BIK Youth Ambassadors share, although sometimes with caution. Kathrin agreed that "it was very well received – we exchanged our thoughts with all those amazingly intelligent people who really want to change things for the better", before adding "for me honestly, it's sometimes not easy to carry on with this line of work, because some of the points, including the problems we raised this year, are things we've been discussing for as long as I've become active in the field of internet governance. Of course, the topics always vary a bit, but the essence remains the same. So, the question for me is, was it really as well received as it seemed? Because if it would have been, then we would no longer be discussing the same themes. I hope that this year might change my mind."

Reflecting on the Youth Pledge's success, Matěj posited that what worked well were "entertaining elements, such as posters, a game as a kick-off, drawings, and so on", as well as the opportunities for informal discussions: "I and my fellow BIK Youth Ambassadors were able to speak with the industry representatives and the decision-makers alone. We were able to focus more on exact issues which may have helped a lot as the attendees could imagine the problems specifically." For Charampoulos, the industry's positive reactions to the Youth Pledge can also be explained by the fact that the messages emanate directly from young people themselves, as well as by "the empowering support of crucial stakeholders like the European Commission".

In an ongoing dialogue with industry, the Youth Pledge for a Better Internet will remain a key line of work in the BIK Youth Programme throughout 2020. What do the Ambassadors expect from their industry partners, in this timeframe? According to Kathrin, "lots of Alliance members talked to us after the meeting, and shared business cards and e-mail addresses. I hope that they did this because they really want to work with us and listen to our opinions. And I don't just want them to listen to us; they should also act upon it." Charampoulos added that "the last few years, I've seen some positive steps and I believe with continuous actions with the support we need we can accomplish our mission!" Finally, as Matěj put it, "we all would be happy if the companies remembered some of our words and used them as a starting point to make a change. They have the opportunity to listen to some members from a really big group of their users and we would be more than happy to cooperate and give feedback anytime they need it."

In the coming months, the BIK Youth Ambassadors and industry representatives will participate in a co-design workshop where they will exchange ideas and best practices. The companies involved can then reflect on these discussions internally regarding the age-appropriateness of the policies they have in place. The BIK Youth Ambassadors will then, in November 2020, present the results of their activities at the Safer Internet Forum (SIF).

For more information about the BIK Youth programme, visit the BIK Youth minisite, the @BIK_Youth Twitter page, and the @bik.youthforyouth Instagram page.

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