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Netsafe works with global tech giants to address online harm in NZ

By Sara Barker, Fri 6 Aug 2021

Facebook, Google, TikTok, Trade Me, Twitter and Twitch are joining Netsafe to develop a new code of practice to provide online protections for New Zealanders.

Netsafe has been developing the Online Safety Code of Practice since the start of 2021. It is a code that goes beyond regulations and addresses key tenets of online safety.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 sets out basic online safety laws; however, Netsafe chief Martin Cocker says the Code is designed to bridge the gap between legislation and New Zealanders’ real-world experiences. 

For example, some forms of online harm may not be technically illegal, but they still have the potential to cause harm to people.

“Harmful experiences, directly and indirectly, cause physical, financial, and psychological harm, decrease user confidence, and undermine investment in the digital economy and society,” says Cocker.

A recent poll of 809 people aged between 18-60 found that more than half (52%) of people had experienced an online safety issue last year. These safety issues included unwanted contact through social media, tracking via technology, sharing false information, sharing intimate images or videos, and bullying and harassment.

Further, 58% of respondents believe New Zealand should have stronger laws against the deliberate sharing of false information, and 65% want more public awareness campaigns about online safety.

In an online media event last week, Cocker joined representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter to discuss the goals and applications of the Online Safety Code of Practice.

Cocker believes that the code has particular business implications for any organisation that operates in New Zealand and provides systems that manage content distribution through the internet.

Facebook’s Director of Public Policy for Australia, New Zealand & the Pacific Islands, Mia Garlick, says that Facebook understands the challenges of balancing freedom of expression with protecting people from harm. Garlick stresses that Facebook is committed to both accountability and transparency.

Google New Zealand head of government affairs and public policy, Ross Young, says that Google is responsible for protecting people’s privacy and security within all of its products. The company will continue to work with Netsafe to keep people safe online.

Cocker also points to initiatives such as The Christchurch Call, a pledge from governments and technology firms to remove terrorism and violent extremism on the internet.

TikTok Australia and New Zealand director of public policy Brent Thomas, says, "The safety of our community is a top priority for TikTok and we work every day to ensure our policies, processes and technologies are in place to help protect all users, and our teenage users in particular."

Netsafe conducted its first workshop with the social media giants last week. Consultation with stakeholders and the public will follow. The Code could be in place by early 2022.

“If successful, the Code will see technology companies commit to ensuring their products and services are delivered in a way that makes the safety of New Zealand internet users of paramount importance,” says Cocker.

“TikTok is committed to engaging closely with Netsafe to develop the Online Safety Code of Practice in New Zealand which will enhance safety measures online and help ensure TikTok continues to be a safe and positive space for all Kiwis.”

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