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Online safety and why it is important

We look at what Cyber Safety is and why it is important
Three young people sitting around tables and looking at computers. They are laughing

Online safety is essential for every internet user to ensure protection from the risks and harms that exist in the online environment.

Over the past decade, online platforms and technologies have provided untold benefits and unforeseen opportunities. However, the same digital technologies that connect and enable us can also be weaponised to perpetrate abuse.

By understanding the risks and building safety into the design, development and deployment of online products and services, we can significantly reduce online harms – and even prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Online harms are activities that take place wholly or partially online that can damage an individual’s social, emotional, psychological, financial or even physical safety. These harms occur as a result of content, conduct, or contact and can include online activity or material that:

  • Depicts sexual exploitation or sexual abuse of children
  • Promotes, instructs, or incites terrorism, violent extremism or other criminal activity, such as rape or murder
  • Encourages or promotes suicide or self-harm
  • Bullies, abuses, threatens, harasses, intimidates, or humiliates another person
  • Involves non-consensual sharing of intimate images or videos
  • Is inappropriate and potentially damaging for children to see.

The online world is both a facilitator and amplifier of human interactions. And while technology does not drive behaviour, it is a medium through which these behaviours can manifest. As such, the design of digital environments plays a vital role in shaping people’s experiences and their safety online

Privacy, online safety and cyber security

eSafety advocates for safety to be the third pillar of the digital ecosystem, alongside privacy and security.

  • Data is referred to in relation to privacy
  • Online harms are referred to in relation to safety
  • Cyber threats are referred to in relation to security.

It is important to consider Safety by Design, alongside ‘privacy by design’ and ‘security by design’ in the design, development and release of online products and services.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) provides additional information on safety and security you may find helpful to support your learning:

Illustration of computer with person on screen and a hovering key Cyber Safety: The safe and responsible use of information and communication technologies.
Illustration of network with lock over the top Cyber Security: Measures used to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of systems, devices and the information residing on them.
(Source: Australian Cyber Security Centre)

Why is online safety important?

Protecting and safeguarding online users is a global concern. It requires a proactive and comprehensive approach from various perspectives to deal with the complex individual, societal and technological factors that manifest in the online environment.

Online risks and harms are often intersectional, inter-related and occur across a spectrum of online devices, services, products and platforms. This means a holistic and multi-faceted approach to online safety is necessary. Designing and developing online products and services that have user rights and safety at their centre is an essential part of this proactive approach to online safety.

In the technology driven world of today, users expect more control and choice over their online experiences. They want the ability to control who can message them and more choice over what content they see online, along with more privacy and protections for vulnerable groups (Perrino 2022).

The big question

How do you effectively design and develop online products and services with user safety and rights front and centre?

This is the fundamental question which will drive your learning and exploration throughout this course.

Make a note of this question now, so you can return to it periodically as you progress through the Safety by Design course and see how your understanding of it evolves.

Want to know more?

To learn more about the concepts covered in this step, check out the following articles:

This white paper sets out principles to advance digital safety in a rights-respecting way.

Perrino’s article considers the intersections between privacy, safety and security in balancing the potential for online risk and harms on online platforms and services.


© RMIT 2023
This article is from the free online

Safety By Design

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