Vodafone announces initiatives to protect children on smartphones

Vodafone has announced the launch of two initiatives to protect children and young people and to empower and inform parents as smartphones play an increasingly important role in how families manage their daily lives.

Additionally, Vodafone announced today that it is to be a founding member of a new pan-European task force, the CEO Coalition, established by the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, to enhance child safety online.

Vodafone has developed a new smartphone app, the Vodafone Guardian, which enables parents and carers to protect children and young people from inappropriate calls, messages and online content. The app is launched today in Egypt, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the UK with other markets to follow next year. It is available free of charge.

Vodafone Guardian is designed for the Android operating system – used by smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC and Sony Ericsson, as well as on Vodafone’s own brand smartphones – and offers parents a greater degree of control than is available on other smartphones available today.

The Vodafone Guardian app enables parents to configure their children’s smartphones to:block specific contacts or mobile phone numbers to prevent ‘cyber-bullying’ text messages or calls; transfer ‘cyber-bullying’ text messages to a secure folder in the smartphone’s onboard memory. This folder can only be accessed by the child’s parent or carer, ensuring that abusive texts are stored should they need to be used as evidence with a school or the police; restrict outgoing calls to individual contacts only (for example, Mum, Dad, carer, specific friends) – a useful safety measure for younger children getting used to a mobile phone for the first time; specify times during which calls can or cannot be made or received. Time-limits can also be set for the use of specific apps. During ‘no calls or apps’ periods, use of apps and all inbound or outbound calls can be blocked – a helpful way for parents to enforce homework time or bedtime. Restrictions can also be applied on a contact-by-contact basis; block access to the mobile internet at specific times – such as during school hours or overnight – or at all times. The restrictions apply across all wireless networks, including 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth; and deactivate the smartphone’s camera at specific times, particularly when parents are not available to advise young people on what is and it not appropriate to photograph and share online.

The Vodafone Guardian app also includes the following functions set by default: a text message is sent to the parent or carer’s mobile phone if the child calls the emergency services; and calls made by the child to specific counselling hotlines for children, such as Childline in the UK or Protegeles in Spain, are not recorded in the outgoing calls log on the child’s smartphone, ensuring full confidentiality for the child at all times.

Vodafone has established network-level content filters in nine countries, under which internet content unsuitable for under-18s can be blocked over 3G networks without adult consent.

Vodafone also works closely with the Internet Watch Foundation (www.iwf.org.uk) in supporting the industry hotline for reporting child pornography websites and is a founder member of the GSMA Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Content.

In addition to the Vodafone Guardian app, Vodafone has today launched a companion app, Vodafone Digital Parenting. This provides parents and carers with information and advice on how to ensure that children and young people get the greatest benefit from the smartphone revolution whilst avoiding the challenges and risks which are of concern to parents worldwide.

The Vodafone Digital Parenting app is designed for smartphones running the Android operating system and is also available free of charge from today for Vodafone customers in the UK, with other markets to follow in due course.

Vodafone is also part of the cross-sector educational initiative, Teach Today, which provides schools with information about positive, safe and responsible use of new technologies. The Teach Today initiative is endorsed by the European Commission.

Vodafone Group CEO, Vittorio Colao said, “The smartphone revolution is enormously positive for society, transforming the way millions of people communicate, share and learn. Children and young people have an intuitive understanding of the new world of smartphone communications and the mobile internet. However, parents who are concerned about the potential risks from cyber-bullying and unsuitable content often lack the tools, support and skills to protect and support their children. The Vodafone Guardian and Digital Parenting apps will empower parents and enhance their ability to share in their children’s digital journey to adulthood.”