Cyber safety data hard to come by: report

Rudd-commissioned cyber safety report supporting $125.8 million cyber safety plan relies on extrapolated data

A report commissioned by the Federal Government on cyber safety has shed light on the scarcity of local data on online dangers, such as cyber-bulling and cyber-stalking, to children.

The Review of Existing Australian and International Cyber-safety Research report, undertaken by the Edith Cowan University, found there were significant gaps in Australian research, with only very preliminary Australian research being conducted on the effects of exposure to pornography on children and cursory examination of areas such as cyber-stalking.

“Therefore, it is necessary to extrapolate from overseas research findings to estimate the prevalence and consequences associated with some cyber safety risks to Australian youth,” the report reads.

The report, which the government is using to support its $125.8 million cyber-safety plan, argues that while cyber-grooming and sexual solicitation are potentially the most serious cyber-safety risks for children, cyber-bullying occurs at a rate far lower than overseas.

“Whereas rates of up to 50 per cent of [students] being cyber bullied have been reported among young people in the US and Europe, prevalence rates in Australia are much lower (less than 10 percent),” the report reads.

Despite the anonymity offered by the Internet and mobile phone, the report also found that the majority of students were aware of the identity of the cyber-bullying perpetrator.

While exact prevalence data were not available on cyber-stalking, overseas estimates of the proportion of young people in Australia affected by cyber-stalking was about seven per cent, according to the report.

About 84 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls in Australia are estimated to have been accidentally exposed to pornography online, while 38 per cent and two per cent of boys and girls respectively have been deliberately exposed.

In related news, the Federal Government is also claiming a cyber-safety win with the signing on of several IT industry heavyweights to promote its children’s Internet safety initiative, CyberSmart.

According to the communications minister Stephen Conroy, Google and YouTube Australia, MySpace and Telstra have signed on to promote the Web site.

The companies, along with welfare organisations such as Bravehearts, Child Wise, and The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, will promote the CyberSmart website by prominently displaying links on their own websites, according to the government.

The CyberSmart site seeks to educate young children, teenagers, teachers and parents about potential online risks such as cyber-bulling, sexually explicit, violent, prohibited or illegal content and scams and identity theft.

Conroy said the need for a central source of information about cyber-security was borne out by meetings with the Youth Advisory Group on cyber-safety, and through the government-commissioned cyber-safety report.