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EnhaNcing seCurity And privacy in the Social wEb: a user centered approach for the protection of minors

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Keeping youth safe and custodians aware of the lurking threats in the social web

In a world of infinite connectivity, young people are ‘natural-born clickers’. Next to being one of the most active groups of internet users, young people are also the most vulnerable. An EU initiative provided groundbreaking research on the existing threats in online social networks (OSNs) and developed parental advice tools for threat detection.

Digital Economy
Security

Growing up in the digital age means also facing the risks of the online world. To effectively protect young internet users from exposure to inappropriate content, ENCASE brought together academia and industry, challenging them to contribute to the relevant literature on threat detection and to propose new user-friendly and practical solutions. This research was undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme. The theoretical outcome comprises numerous reports and publications by regulators and policymakers featuring mentions on the results of the project. The tangible result is a Cybersafety Family Advice Suite including a browser add-on, an Intelligent Web-Proxy, and back-end server for OSN data analytics.

Respecting privacy

“The main concern we faced during the design phase of the Cybersafety Family Advice Suite was the privacy of adolescents. How could we protect minors from the threats in OSNs and inform their custodians about the threats the minor was exposed to, without violating the adolescent’s privacy?”, notes Michael Sirivianos, project coordinator and assistant professor of Computer Engineering and Informatics at the Cyprus University of Technology (CUT). Adolescents tend to be secretive, and they usually won’t give their consent to inform their custodians about the actions they undertake while in OSNs. Moreover, the study showed that monitoring users’ activity can have a negative impact on their experience with the system. That could lead young users to seek alternative ways of engaging online to avoid detection, hence, rendering the tools ineffective. “To solve this problem, we prioritised the privacy of the users. First, we put all functionality and detection rules in the Intelligent Web-Proxy, where the minors – or inexperienced users – wouldn’t be able to deactivate them,” explains Sirivianos. “In addition, we designed our tools to combine the key capabilities of state-of-the-art parental control tools, while respecting the privacy of adolescents.” ENCASE is not a parental control tool that monitors and reports the actions of adolescents to their custodians, but a cyber safety family advice tool. It informs minors about an imminent threat and proposes suitable steps to avoid it instead of just blocking and filtering content. “In this way, our tools act as the minor’s guardian angel while using OSNs,” concludes Antonis Papasavva, project fellow and technical lead from CUT.

Be informed, be safe

The next step is to share knowledge and educate adolescents and their adult caretakers about the threats of using OSNs. To further spread awareness, the project communicates its results and tries to involve numerous safe internet initiatives such as Better Internet for Kids and EU Kids Online. Finally, project host CUT exploits the tools developed by ENCASE by implementing them in piloting activities in primary and elementary schools in Cyprus within the context of CYberSafety II – an EU Connecting Europe Facility programme that addresses educators, students, and parents. The valuable feedback aids the team to improve the tools further, while, at the same time, the voluntary participants have the opportunity to become more aware of threats in OSNs.

Keywords

ENCASE, threats, OSN, privacy, adolescents, cybersafety, internet users, threat detection, Cybersafety Family Advice Suite, online social networks

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