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Finland needs better legislation to protect children online, survey finds

Protect Children would like to see young people's Instragram accounts be automatically reverted to 'private' when first signing up, among other measures.

A poll by the non-profit Protect Children showed 65 percent support for stronger protections for children and young people in Finland.

Finland's digital environment is less safe for children compared to other European countries, according to children protection non-profit Protect Children.

From chatting with friends to education, children's lives have become increasingly intertwined with online activity and children's data processing within the Finnish digital environment is rife with risks, the NGO says. The risks include GPS location-tracking as well as algorithm-recommended harmful and extreme content that pops up on children's feeds.

"Ensuring that children’s rights, and their best interests, are considered by data controllers is essential to creating a safe digital environment for children in the first instance," Protect Children says in a statement (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

A poll the group carried out found that 65 percent out of around 1,000 respondents would support stronger regulations to protect children and young people online.

Sexual abuse material on the rise

Reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) have grown exponentially across Europe, with some 1,056 CSAM offences reported in Finland in 2020. The corresponding figure for 2010 was 120.

Police in Central Finland earlier this year suspected a young man of using social media to seek out and sexually exploit at least 129 minors. The suspect is believed to have coerced victims into performing sexual acts in videos via social media apps, including TikTok and Snapchat. He has been held in remand since 22 April 2021.

Protect Children also found that people in Finland are more likely to seek direct contact with children online after accessing CSAM than their international counterparts. A separate survey by the organisation found that 45 percent of Finnish respondents had sought direct online contact with a child after viewing CSAM, while the global average for the same question was 37 percent.

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NGO: Finland needs a rights-by-design approach

Alongside improving data protections, Finland should tighten its regulations to address harmful content, especially child sexual abuse material, according to Protect Children.

The organisation suggested that children's rights be embedded into regulations via a rights-by-design approach, witnessed in other countries in Europe including France, Ireland, Sweden and the UK.

Such an approach would see practices such as the automatic switch-off of geolocation tracking, automatic profile setting to 'most private' when first joining a platform as well as the forbiddance of unnecessary data collection, to reduce privacy risks.

Protect Children noted that child users in Finland are not afforded the same levels of privacy and safety as their European peers on some platforms.

"For example, 17-year-olds who join Instagram for the first time are asked to ‘choose’ between public and private accounts, whereas in Germany and Slovenia they are defaulted automatically to private accounts," the organisation points out.

Better risk assessments would also ensure that data is only collected and used in ways that do not cause harm to children, and are in their best interests, according to the NGO.

Protect Children have urged the Data Protection Ombudsman to work with the European Data Protection Board in bettering data regulations and ensuring that new laws are "swiftly" and "rigorously implemented in Finland" once passed.