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A new generation of ‘digital natives’ – those growing up with smart technology from birth – will expect to exert influence over how the internet develops more than any previous age group, Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield OBE has said.

Speaking ahead of the first meeting of the UK’s newly established Digital Taskforce, she said future generations of children who post photos of themselves on the internet or who have hurtful content posted by others are likely to demand the right to easily remove them.

Feedback from young people had already shown they were concerned about companies getting their personal details. She added that industry and government would soon have to catch up with the fast-moving digital world children inhabit – and this may mean changes in the way companies operate, or changes to the law.

Anne Longfield OBE said:

“Children and young people are some of the greatest users of the internet but they have no influence over its development and little control over their own online presence or the information collected about them. The taskforce will change this.

“By making sure children help to shape and influence the rules which govern the internet, they will be able to better benefit from the incredible opportunities it provides without being exposed to harm or danger.

“At the moment, whatever is on the internet is like a tattoo – it can be incredibly difficult or impossible for a child to permanently remove an image which depicts them, or content or data about them, whether it is untrue, harmful, or simply out of date. Children and young people say they want this to change.

“Anyone who has seen a toddler with a smart phone knows the next generation are often able to use digital equipment before they have mastered other forms of communication. As this generation of children grows up, they are likely to be much more demanding and discerning in their relationship with the internet; that means urgent action is needed to develop new protections and rights online.

“If we do not, our next generation of digital natives will find it incredulous that we failed to protect them when images of them and data about their younger selves remain online against their will. In some cases this data is a tradable commodity, which could remain online forever more.

“Childhood has been transformed by technology. The change has been swift, but disorganised and not designed with children in mind. I have set up the taskforce to help change this.”

She adds:

“The Digital Taskforce is bringing together children and experts to make recommendations to policy-makers and industry and exert influence over the future development of the internet for children.

“Some excellent steps have already been taken to help make sure children can benefit from the opportunities provided by the internet safely – the iRights movement, for example, has identified a number of promises for children that organisations should adhere to in their use of the internet.

“One of the key features of its work has been to highlight that children clearly want more control over the internet when it comes to information and images about them. The Taskforce will be responding to this to make sure that children get the protection and opportunities in the digital world that they can expect for the rest of their lives.”

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