Live video, augmented reality and other innovations are creating a tough environment for tech firms dealing with online harassment, terrorism and the dark side of the Internet.
(TNS) — Polly Naber thought her 15-year-old daughter Jill was just grappling with the daily stress of school work and cheerleading, but days after the Los Gatos High School freshman took her own life in 2009, the mom came across a shocking discovery.
Her daughter had sent a topless photo of herself to a boy, the image was spread to others and then posted online.
"I was pretty blown out of the water, but all a sudden it started to make sense," she said.
Seven years later, tech firms are under growing pressure from the government, parents and advocacy groups to do more as social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter grow in popularity, mobile phone use skyrockets and the lives of children, teens and adults increasingly become tied to the digital world. Online activity is also becoming more immediate with live video, augmented reality and other innovations creating a tough environment for tech firms dealing with online harassment, terrorism and the dark side of the Internet.
On Tuesday, Silicon Valley tech firms highlighted their efforts around online safety as part of Safer Internet Day, which happens every year and is meant to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones. That same day, President Barack Obama also sent to Congress a $4 trillion budget proposal that includes $19 billion for cybersecurity efforts.
"I think there's a huge amount of responsibility on the tech industry to get this right and most of the major companies have been at this for a while," said Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. "It's good business. If your customers and users don't trust you, they're unlikely to come back and use your products."
After her daughter's death, Naber teamed up with Yahoo and the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety to create a digital online safety course, helping to provide law enforcement with the tools and resources needed to educate parents and students at schools about the dangers lurking on the Internet.
But Yahoo said it is still doing more, working with the UK Safer Internet Centre to create education packs to help spark a discussion about online safety and providing training to its employees at its Sunnyvale headquarters and worldwide on Tuesday. Twitter announced it's forming a Trust & Safety Council with more than 40 organizations and experts from 13 regions. Google is offering users 2GB of extra Google Drive storage if they complete a security checkup by Wednesday, and introduced changes in Gmail to let people know if a received message is not encrypted, among other efforts. Facebook published online tips for parents.
"It's providing the opportunity about how to have these difficult conversations with your own family, kids and youth in your life," said Kathleen Lefstad, policy manager for Yahoo's Trust & Safety team. "You can be working with a tech company and know the ins and outs of Yahoo and everything around it, but to be able to communicate with your children in a clear way ... that's a skill in and of itself."
For Naber, making the digital world more safe is a responsibility that doesn't only fall on the tech companies.
"I think parents need to be involved. I think schools need to educate and back that up," she said. "I think the tech companies need to be responsible for what they put out there. It takes a village to keep the kids safe."
©2016 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.