More than just access, we need to build Gen Z’s digital skills
By Sigve Brekke, President and CEO, Telenor Group
More than 40% of the planet’s 7.4 billion people today access the internet through a keystroke or swipe of their fingertip, opening up a new digital world of opportunities.
The opportunities offered by connectivity – financial inclusion, access to knowledge, better health and education – comes with new risks, most notably in regards to young users. For ‘digital natives’ or Generation Z (born mid-to-late 90s onwards) who have grown up in developed markets with internet access for as long as they can remember, safe practices around online behavior have generally been part of their education.
For many markets in the developing world, however, internet access is more of a novelty and any risks are less evident to parents or first-time users. Consumers in emerging markets are leapfrogging technologies and joining the digital world at unparalleled rates.
First in their households online: children
Looking specifically at young users and internet, the situation is this: Up to 85 percent of children in emerging Asia will first access the internet via mobile because devices are cheaper, connectivity more affordable and more instant than ever before. Physically, kids on mobiles are more difficult for parents to supervise when compared to, say, kids on desktop devices. What’s more, in many cases, the children in developing markets will be the first members of their households to go online, not their parents.
Present in 13 markets, stretching from Norway to Malaysia, my company provides mobile and digital communication services to more than 200 million customers – many of them connecting for the first time. We see it also as our responsibility to provide guidance to our customers and help lay safety nets for those who are most at risk.
We believe there are universal principles around safe internet that should be applied in all contexts, such as right to privacy, but these principles must be tailored to meet the needs of vastly different markets. Nowhere is this more evident than in Asia, where we are venturing into new territory, playing an integral role in some of the world’s least connected markets, such as Myanmar.
A public-private partnership for digital resilience
Having served emerging Asia for the last two decades, we knew millions of young and new internet users would be getting online. We began our work on these fronts early in more established markets in Scandinavia and Central Europe, where we learned how to conduct impactful digital safety programs.
Telenor Norway’s partnership to fight cyber bullying, the Use Your Head campaign, reached an important milestone just recently in 2015: 200,000 students in more than 700 schools have now received training in how to prevent bullying.
This taught us the importance of taking internet safety messages directly to kids and parents by working with schools, and we learned the importance of building alliances with organizations that mitigate online risks.
Outreach like this is enormously important also in Asia, where fear about the internet acts as an obstacle to access. Building awareness and digital skills are invaluable in communities that may be wary of what the internet actually is. When they understand what it can offer and that there are ways to stay safe, it helps to break down self- or community-imposed barriers to access.
Last year, we announced expanded efforts to keep the internet safe for the estimated 55 million children around the world who are expected to come online by 2017. This includes working with partners such as other ICT players, the European Commission, the Interpol, the GSMA and UNICEF. With them, we work on many fronts to get kids and new users off to a safe start in the digital world. Among many initiatives, these are studying how children behave online, establishing filters that block illegal content, conducting large-scale outreach programs and publishing resources, like a parental guide on how to talk to children about the internet.
We see it as important to not only deliver awesome services, but also design effective means of empowering people to stay protected online. Playing a key role in our customers’ digital lives, we have a vested interest in the well-being of our mobile subscribers, and we want to see more of our industry peers, our public partners, our employees and our digitally savvy customers take active interest in the well-being of their newly connected fellow citizens as they explore this new digital world.
Follow Sigve Brekke on Twitter @Sigve_Telenor and at www.facebook.com/sigve.telenor.
About Telenor Group
Telenor Group is one of the world’s major mobile operators with close to 200 million subscribers. Our #MoreThan 33,000 employees across 13 countries in Europe and Asia work each day to provide connectivity and to make a real difference for people, business and society.