The FSM is setting standards in youth protection by working with its member companies to develop voluntary commitments for various areas of the online world. The function of a self-regulation organisation like the FSM is to breathe life into the prescribed legal framework on a practical level. If industry standards are developed in collaboration with these companies, this guarantees that youth protection will be both maintained and implemented in practice. The rules determined in these voluntary commitments are based on legal principles, though they also have the particular advantage that they can be adapted more quickly and flexibly to new trends and technologies.
Codes of conduct
Over the course of the past year, the FSM has developed codes of conduct for various areas of the online world. For example, in March 2009, together with Germany’s largest social network providers at the time – VZnet Netzwerke, Lokalisten and wer-kennt-wen – a code of conduct was created that brought about significant improvements in youth protection, data protection and consumer protection. The code saw the companies in question making a commitment to use technical measures to protect young users in particular from abuses by third parties such as cyberbullying, and to educate minors, parents and teachers further so as to highlight the available means of protection.
Furthermore, as early as 2007 the FSM had drawn up a declaration of commitment in association with the mobile phone companies Debitel, E-Plus, Mobilcom, O2, Talkline, T-Mobile and Vodafone. Among the measures included in this were a single free youth protection hotline reached by dialling 22988, providing information to parents on topics relevant to youth protection when concluding a contract, and the optimisation of online information about companies. In November 2007, the FSM also worked with German chat providers (Knuddels, Lycos Europe, RTL interactive and Super RTL) in November 2007 to develop a voluntary code of conduct designed to improve protection for children and adolescents when using chat services in Germany. The code contained measures including the obligatory presence of moderators, reporting and ignore functions, a bad word list and age verification for all chat participants.
In February 2005, Germany’s best-known search engine providers – Google, IAC Search & Media including ask.de, MSN Deutschland, Searchteq GmbH including the online service suchen.de, T-Online, and Yahoo! Deutschland including Yahoo.de came together under the umbrella of the FSM to found Selbstkontrolle Suchmaschinen (Self-Regulation for Search Engines). This is the world’s first initiative in which key players in the search engine sector have come together on the basis of a voluntary commitment to agree unified standards designed to ensure consumer protection and youth protection while still preserving freedom of expression and avoiding censorship. Working with the FSM, the search engine companies developed a Supplementary Code of Conduct.
Supplementary Code of Conduct of Search Engine Providers
By signing the code, these search engines committed themselves to the following measures:
- public education and information on how search engines work
- transparent structuring and display of search results (to include identification of advertising)
- use of technical instruments for protecting children and adolescents from harmful content
- basic principle of data economy when dealing with user data
- improvement of youth media protection (relates especially to protection from harmful content)
- non-display of Internet addresses listed on the “Index of media harmful to young persons” maintained by the German Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BPJM) (BPjM Module)
As part of a shared commitment to youth protection on the part of business, voluntary self-regulation and the state supervisory authorities, the Selbstkontrolle Suchmaschinen (Self-Regulation for Search Engines) initiative and the German Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BPjM) have worked together to develop a technical procedure which, by incorporating the BPjM Module, ensures that Internet addresses (URLs) listed by the BPjM on the “Index of media harmful to young persons” (“Index”) are no longer displayed among the results of search engines.
As a result, the issue of whether specific content is harmful to young persons, and hence whether it should or should not appear among search results, is no longer decided by the individual search engines. Instead, the decision to remove search results that contravene German law is taken by the BPjM using a transparent procedure in accordance with constitutional law.
The process excludes any attempt to use search engine algorithms to impose moral beliefs, which are evidently virtually impossible to define. In short, the decision-making process is expressly prevented from becoming arbitrary, which would in any case constitute an unacceptable censorship of search results.
In this way, search engine operators and the BPjM are making a fundamental contribution to the improvement of youth media protection in Germany.
Despite its technical limitations, teletext remains as popular as ever. One key reason may be that teletext is very easy to use and quickly accessible: alongside information about current TV programmes, users can obtain news and a very wide range of services (weather, sports results, lottery numbers), all available simply and conveniently via their remote control.
Even if teletext and the Internet are very different from each other both technically and structurally, both are classified as telemedia. For teletext, this was for a long time legally defined in Article 2 Para. 1 Sentence 4 of the German Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting and Telemedia (Interstate Broadcasting Treaty – RStV). Since the coming into force on 1 June 2009 of the Twelfth Amendment to the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty (12. Rundfunkänderungsstaatsvertrag – RÄStV), this can still be implied from Article 58 Para. 2 RStV; likewise, in the draft version of the German Telemedia Act (TMG) the legislatures expressly proceeded on the assumption that teletext counts as a telemedia service (BT-Drs. 16/3078, p. 13, right-hand column).
Code of conduct
Particularly in the field of advertising via teletext, there are areas that require special attention in terms of youth media protection. To meet the high legal requirements as fully as possible, the FSM member companies active in the teletext sector as content or service providers have pooled their efforts, developing among other things a joint code of conduct.
Concrete measures set out in this code include:
- no use of illegal content or content illegal for minors, or content liable to impair development
- signatories undertake to refrain from advertising any services that they know for a fact to be in breach of current youth media protection law
- use of the rules developed by the FSM Expert Evaluator Commission for the assessment of text and graphic elements in teletext
In 2007, FSM drew up a voluntary commitment together with the mobile phone companies Debitel, E-Plus, Mobilcom, O2, Talkline, T-Mobile and Vodafone. Given the rapid developments in technology, complex media offers and Internet access on mobile end-devices have long since become the norm.
Measures decided in this voluntary commitment include:
- a single free youth protection hotline reached by dialling 22988
- information to be provided to parents on topics relevant to youth protection when concluding a contract
- optimisation of online information about companies
In spring 2012, the FSM office evaluated this voluntary commitment and concluded that all measures were being fully implemented by its members.
As early as 2005, some well-known mobile phone providers signed a code of conduct that was implemented under the auspices of FSM.