With the restrictions in going out and meeting people, the rise in e-commerce accelerated, and seasoned fraudsters are seizing the opportunity to exploit the vulnerable and less-tech savvy. For the many people adopting new technologies such as online banking and shopping for the first time during COVID-19, these frauds are incredibly convincing, and traumatic.
According to Better Business Bureau, a private and nonprofit organization whose self-described mission is to focus on advancing marketplace trust, identity theft that originated from internet use resulted in over $1 million lost in 2020.
But beyond these losses brought about by online scams, a vulnerable group in the society is at an increased risk of harm: children — millions of them. Because of mobility restrictions, the lives of children have shifted online, from school to games.
In Vietnam, in an effort to make the internet a healthy and safe place for students and children in general, the Vietnamese government sets in motion a national program to protect children to learn, socialize, and express themselves.
Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính signed Decision No. 830 protecting the privacy of children and preventing acts of abuse that may and can happen while browsing the web. Vietnam’s first-ever program on child protection online focuses on supplying children with age-appropriate information and skills to harness them with proper knowledge and be able to protect themselves from possible virtual attacks.
This is a big first step for the country considering that early last year, Vietnam performed badly in cyber risk and social infrastructure rating according to an index compiled by DQ Institute, a US-based non-profit.
Among the surveyed economies, Vietnam ranked 28th out of 30 in the Child Online Safety Index for 2020 with an overall score of 12.7 out of 100, far below the global average of 42.
In what it claims is the first-ever report of the kind, DQ Institute says a survey was done of 145,426 children and adolescents over the last three years, measuring the level of online safety for children based on six pillars: cyber risks, disciplined digital use, digital competency, guidance & education, social infrastructure, and connectivity, reads a VN Express report dated February 2020.
With this new program, the country is showing its take on Child Online Safety and possibly rank better in the coming years.
Decision No. 830 will also help maintain a healthy cyber environment, develop an ecosystem of Vietnamese apps for children to learn, meet fellow learners, and communicate in a safe and at the same time creative way. The program also includes initiatives in deploying new technologies such as AI and big data to network operators and digital platforms like Google, Facebook, and Zalo to automatically collect and analyze early warnings on the content not suitable for children.
Furthermore, websites with the “.vn” domain and those with IP addresses in the country will be required to self-categorize content suitable for children's ages. In the same way for those who provide online services and apps for children must have self-deploy solutions to protect children and assist parents or caregivers in managing children's use of applications and services.
Under this program, businesses will be encouraged to develop information security solutions to protect children on the internet and actually do better in developing a safer virtual place for the younger generations.
Any issues related to children’s protection will also be integrated online through notification channels with the national child protection hotline at 111. The implementation of digital skillsets will be piloted in five cities of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hai Phong, Đa Nang, and Can Tho.
Children can visit bvte.vncert.vn to share issues of online abuse and give them an avenue to express their own voices.
Mitigate online risks
Children are one of the most significant users of the Internet for education, communication, and entertainment. While there are many benefits, they are also the most vulnerable ones. Information on tools for violence, cults, drugs, etc. are freely available with just a few clicks, which could be very damaging for children.
Not only that, cyberspace hosts an enormous number of venues such as chat rooms, message boards, and role-playing games where children convene and discuss basically anything. This provides greater opportunities for abusers to seek out and approach children relatively easily, and eventually harm them psychologically and even physically.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, “Under the shadow of COVID-19, the lives of millions of children have temporarily shrunk to just their homes and their screens. We must help them navigate this new reality.” And it’s true, the parents, teachers, school organizations, and the government can do something to provide just that — a safer place for learning even if they’re in the comforts of their homes.
UNICEF provides preliminary recommended actions to mitigate online risks for children during COVID-19 and it includes:
- Governments: Support core child protection services to make sure they remain open and active throughout the pandemic; train health, education, and social service workers on the impacts that COVID-19 may have on child well-being, including increased online risks; step up awareness-raising and educational initiatives on child online safety, and make sure social service providers, schools, parents and children are aware of local reporting mechanisms and have support numbers of local helplines and hotlines.
- Information technology industry including social networking platforms: Ensure online platforms have enhanced safety and safeguarding measures, especially virtual learning tools, and that they are clearly accessible to educators, parents and children; promote and facilitate child safety referral services and helplines; develop standard moderation policies that are aligned with children’s rights; employ built-in protection measures while innovating as appropriate, and provide internet connectivity to improve access for disadvantaged children in low-income households.
- Schools: Update current safeguarding policies to reflect the new realities for children learning from home; promote and monitor good online behaviors and ensure that children have continued access to school-based counseling services.
- Parents: Ensure children’s devices have the latest software updates and antivirus programs; have open dialogues with children on how and with whom they are communicating online; work with children to establish rules for how, when, and where the internet can be used; be alert to signs of distress in children that may emerge in connection with their online activity, and be familiar with school district policies and local reporting mechanisms and have access to numbers of support helplines and hotline handy.
The common problem arises from the get-go, many parents do not have updated knowledge on technology and feel helpless in such situations. However, one does not have to be a tech expert to provide the appropriate guidance to children on protecting themselves in the virtual world. And it’s perfectly fine to ask for help.