2022 – a year in review
2022 the year Netsafe increased responsibility in the online safety space for Aotearoa – Brent Carey, CEO
The internet became more popular this year than ever before. New Zealanders are online to shop, socialise, work, and learn. But with all that activity, Netsafe saw a 90% increase in digital communication harm reports.
The list of new online spaces has grown, and the types of harm have widened and more complex. It’s caused the line between offline harm, and online harm to become blurred.
This resulted in a busy year for Netsafe. Here’s a look back on my seven months since becoming the new CEO and how we responded with increased support, outreach work and rolling out new initiatives.
The rising tide of scams
We have been working closely with the Police to combat the rise of sextortion matters. Young people are being targeted frequently and forced to pay a ransom to someone overseas or that person distributes their sensitive material.
There has been a significant increase in scammers claiming to be from well-known brands or government departments to steal personal information. We reported a record $35 million lost to scams this year – the biggest since Netsafe started recording these reports.
We are partnering with like-minded organisations to increase our victim remediation work and offer more personalised services at no cost to New Zealanders. It’s a long-term project of ours to move New Zealand away from a system of ‘report filing’ to a system that deters scam artists and restores people’s willingness to participate in online activities.
New relationships and key messages
Social media giants, tech leaders and like-minded agencies have supported Netsafe to create safe and positive online spaces. In July, in partnership with Meta, Twitter, Twitch, Google and TikTok, we launched the Aotearoa New Zealand Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms.
The Code increases people’s safety, reduces harmful content online, and includes a set of commitments from the biggest social media platforms in the world. NZTech is operationalising the Code and has appointed Carrie Stoddart-Smith (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua) to the role of inaugural Code administrator and we are looking forward to working with Carrie in 2023.
New Zealand’s second Netsafety Week ran in late July, with the theme – Diversity Matters Online Safety Done Together. The week is the country’s only dedicated online safety week and included in-person events, as well as online safety webinars relating to a diverse range of groups including LGBTQI+, young people, Māori, women, and seniors.
We reached out to young people about two key issues they are facing in their communities.
The first was body image and the role that filters play in young people’s perceptions of themselves online. This was a successfully recognised campaign, winning a Pressie Award in November.
Secondly, we partnered with the Spin-off and the Light Project to run a national campaign in November that got the country talking about porn. We are encouraging the impact these messages have on a generation of young viewers, some of whom are learning about sex from porn.
Next year we look forward to working closely with other agencies, independent entities, and charities to keep New Zealanders safe online.
Over 50 countries voted for our Chief Online Safety Officer, Sean Lyons to become Vice President of the Inhope global helplines to combat child sexual explicit imagery distribution – a position he will hold for two years.
2022 marks one-year of supporting StopNCII.org which uses world-first, on-device hashing technology. People threatened with intimate image abuse can create unique identifiers of their images, (also known as ‘hashes’ or digital fingerprints). In December TikTok and Bumble Inc. joined Facebook and Instagram as Industry Partners of StopNCII.org to prevent the sharing of non-consensual intimate images online.
One highlight for me was receiving an invitation from Internal Affairs and Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti to join her on an eight-day study trip to Europe. Read about my trip in my earlier blog here.
New infrastructure, tools and services
Recently we modernised and upgraded our services. Kora, our chatbot has already handled more than 1 500 questions and will turn on live chat in the New Year. We also upgraded the contact centre telephony and messaging infrastructure to make it easier to handle more calls and texts from New Zealanders in need.
The education sector has been a top priority for Netsafe this year. We launched multiple new initiatives that see:
- Our first e-learning platform and direct-to-student channel open in February 2023 with six micro-learning moments
- Teachers are supported with their free digital kete filled with online safety teaching resources to start the school term
- Our third-party trusted service provider scheme will be up and running by the middle of 2023.
Submitting for better online safety outcomes
Along with the work we did in the community, Netsafe submitted requests for public submissions and joined the government policy debate. You can see our submissions here.
The Harmful Digital Communications Act introduced a punishable offence for a person who posts an intimate visual recording without the consent of the person that is the subject of the recording. Anyone convicted of this can be punished with two years in prison or a $50,000 fine.
In the last five years, police have acted against more than 250 children between the ages of 10 and 14 and against 483 aged 15 to 19 for sharing intimate or explicit images without the subject’s permission.
This highlights a growing need for Netsafe to be better funded for its education and outreach work. We need to help young people avoid becoming a perpetrator of these crimes and for young people to understand consent programmes in schools.
The Department of Internal Affairs is leading an online content regulatory review that will examine harm caused by online content. It’s expected that public consultation to help design and implement a new approach that minimises the risk of harm will happen early next year. Netsafe will review the proposal to ensure the laws are consistent and meet the communities needs and expectations.
It’s an election year
In early 2023 we will be releasing the results of our MisDisMal information survey ahead of the general election next year. Next year we are preparing and releasing our election manifesto in the New Year to talk about online safety themes in the context of key portfolios.
Looking out for one another and happier, healthier work environments
Over the last few years, we have all faced challenges to the way we live and work. A big focus of mine has been to support our staff with a work-anywhere model, asynchronous work patterns and a comprehensive approach to wellbeing that is based on our employees’ needs.
It has seen us downsize and remodel our Head Office in Auckland, grow our out-of-Auckland presence, pilot the 4-day work week, introduce programs that foster positive psychology, and promote benefits that enhance emotional and financial wellbeing.
The dedication to wellbeing has allowed Netsafe staff to pursue an overall healthier, fulfilling life and to stay strong and resilient when expected to tackle the worst online harms.
Netsafe is turning 25 years in September 2023
Netsafe is celebrating a silver anniversary in 2023. We were established in 1998 with the support of the New Zealand Police, the Ministry of Education and several not-for-profits, telecommunication organisations and IT industry partners.
There will be several activities from September onwards to mark the occasion but one event we have locked in is our e-safety conference co-hosted with the esafety Commissioner’s office on 24 and 25 October – save the date.
As always, we would love to hear from you
If you have thoughts about focus areas for online safety that you would like us to champion get in touch at [email protected]
Thanks, from all of us
It’s been a privilege to support the twenty-five hard-working, dedicated Netsafe staff from across the Motu who spend each day helping to keep the internet safer for everyone.
Thank you for your interest and involvement with our work over the year, and I wish you and yours a restful holiday break. Catch you in 2023 as we continue to evolve the online safety space in Aotearoa.