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#ChatControl survey: Children don’t want to be “protected” by scanning or age-restricting messenger and chat apps

European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Press releases

Brussels, 07/03/2023 – A representative survey reveals that 66% of minors oppose internet providers scanning personal messages for suspect content, measures which are proposed for their protection in the EU’s CSA Regulation (CSAR), also called “ChatControl” proposal. 80% of underage respondents explain they would not feel comfortable to be politically active or explore their sexuality if their conversations were monitored or scanned. For this survey, the public opinion research company Episto polled more than 8,000 teenagers aged 13 to 17 in 13 EU Member States.

Additional findings: 

  • 67% of minors use encrypted communication apps like Whatsapp or Signal
  • Where the EU CSAR proposal would require messaging and chat services to verify the user’s age, effectively excluding anonymous communications, 56% of children stress that anonymity is important for their political activities (15%: not important), and 59% of underage respondents say anonymity is important for exploring their sexuality (20%: not important).
  • The draft EU CSA regulation proposes that minors should be prevented from installing apps which allow them to communicate with adults (such as WhatsApp), citing the risk of child grooming. 56% of minors oppose this proposal (29% support). 68% of children explain it is important for them to communicate with adults (18%: not important). 85% of underage respondents say they would probably or certainly find an adult to register apps if needed to circumvent age restrictions.
  • . Only 5% believe that excluding minors from using communication and chat apps is the best solution. 37% suggest improving the mechanisms for young people to report cases of grooming and ensuring that they are adequately and effectively followed-up. And 43% of children suggest that improving media literacy and training minors on risks and appropriate responses is the most effective approach to protect them from harm on the Internet.
  • Girls have similar views to boys, responses do not significantly depend on gender.

About the survey:

  • 8007 minors aged 13 to 17 years were polled in February 2023
  • Participating countries: France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Austria, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Greece
  • The survey was commissioned by Pirate Party Members of the European Parliament Marcel Kolaja, Patrick Breyer, Markéta Gregorová, Mikuláš Peksa and European Digital Rights (EDRi)
  • The full results are retrievable here. You can find the dataset also here.

Marcel Kolaja, Member and Quaestor of the European Parliament for the Czech Pirate Party and Greens/EFA Shadow Rapporteur of the CSA Regulation in the IMCO and CULT Committees, comments:

The survey clearly shows that even the young people and children, who the legislation claims to protect, oppose the draft. Only about a third of European minors think that blocking underage people from installing communication apps would help to fight child sexual abuse and grooming. The Commission’s draft aims to protect children from sexual predators. However, in its current form, it merely bans them from using an important communication tool and subjects them to mass surveillance. All this in spite of their will. Obviously, it’s important to protect children from sexual predators. However, the Commission’s draft is both ineffective and infringes upon their basic human right to privacy. Instead, we need to focus on educating young people on the risks of communicating with strangers online and improving the mechanisms for young people to report cases of grooming.”

Patrick Breyer, Member of the European Parliament for the German Pirate Party and Greens/EFA Shadow Rapporteur for the CSA Regulation proposal in the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE), comments:

The best way to keep children safe online is to listen to them and to respect their views. Young persons prefer being trained in defending against online threats, rather than having their private chats and intimate photos scanned and exposed. Teens prefer effective reporting mechanisms to being patronised and prevented from communicating with adults altogether. Children are particularly vulnerable to violations of their privacy, anonymity and safety online. The EU’s extreme CSAR Chat Control proposal frightens the very children in whose name it is being pushed through. Young persons deserve to be politically involved, not instrumentalised to establish a future of unprecedented mass surveillance.”

Markéta Gregorová, Member of the European Parliament for the Czech Pirate Party, comments: 

Protecting teenagers from dangers of the online world is clearly important. Will we achieve this goal by monitoring their private conversations? Definitely not. The majority of the young people participating in this survey share the same opinion as me. The best way to protect them is by improving their education on this matter as well as their media literacy. Being active on social media platforms is a part of today’s society and communication with one another is crucial, especially for the youth. Thus, we need to take steps to assure the internet is a safe space. Taking away anonymity or restricting access from communication platforms by age will not solve this issue. Rather than spending time by scanning every conversation, we should invest our energy into mechanisms that will be more effective. A great example would be improving the “report” function within communication platforms and consequent platform’s reaction, so that it is easier to report cases of harassment and ensure a proper follow-up for each incident.”

Andreea Belu, Head of Campaigns and Communications at EDRi, comments:

During the 2022 “European Year of the Youth”, EU officials made many promises to empower youth to be politically active. The latest survey shows that, under surveillance from their government, 8 out of 10 young people would not feel comfortable to be politically active or explore their sexuality. Under the proposed CSA Regulation, EU’s youth will be disproportionately surveilled. EU politicians must protect safe and secure communication and allow young people to become drivers for social change. Stopping the horrific crime of child sexual abuse is crucial, and it needs real solutions. However, techno-centric, failure-prone measures are a waste of money, and do not address the underlying structural issues of this terrible problem. Young respondents confirmed what many experts already call for, among others: improved media literacy, training, reporting mechanisms.”

EU Parliament and EU governments are currently discussing the proposed CSAR legislation. Today is the deadline for political groups to table amendments in the Internal Market Committee (IMCO).

According to a leaked memo published in the morning, the European Data Protection Supervisor warns that no amount of “safeguards” would be sufficient to remedy the disproportionate scanning of private communications of millions of non-suspected citizens that is being proposed.

A 2021 poll had already found that a vast majority of adults in the European Union oppose tackling child sexual exploitation online by automatically searching all personal electronic mail and messages of each citizen for presumed suspicious content.

More information: www.ChatControl.eu and www.StopScanningMe.eu

Poll infographics