This month, Netsafe is celebrating twenty-five years of protecting Kiwis from online harm. When we started in 1998, smartphones weren’t a thing, the internet was still a toddler, and social media didn’t exist.
Fast forward twenty-five years and new technology has emerged that keeps New Zealanders connected. It has also made people more vulnerable to be being exposed to harmful content.
Online safety was a foreign concept in the early days because people didn’t understand the internet. However, we have used education resources, webinars, workshops, and campaigns to raise awareness about online risks while teaching people how to stay safe.
Netsafe has had to keep pace with the explosion of innovative technologies. We have partnered with many like-minded organisations, social media platforms and technology companies to make their products safer for Kiwis.
It has been challenging, especially with social media becoming the centre of many people’s lives. While staying connected is excellent, they have become breeding grounds for cyberbullying, misinformation, and harassment.
However, by working closely with the platforms, we have helped them keep their users safe through education, terms and conditions and safety resources.
Another highlight for Netsafe is helping change and update New Zealand’s legal framework for online safety. Technology has advanced at such a rapid pace that the law has struggled to keep up.
But our ongoing campaigning for more specific laws that address online harassment, data breaches and access to justice for victims has led to better protections and more robust legislation.
I’m very proud to see how much Netsafe has achieved in the last 25 years, but more work must be done to protect people online.
I look forward to seeing what the organisation will achieve in the future, but here are some highlights and key achievements since we started.
1998 – 2001: The Beginnings of Netsafe
Before the era of smartphones and social media, Netsafe was already working diligently to protect internet users. In 1998, recognising the rising influence of technology, the New Zealand Police, Ministry of Education, non-profit organisations, and telecommunications partners came together to establish Netsafe.
Our mission: to champion online safety.
2001: Incorporation, Recognition and Netsafe Kit for Schools
In 2001, Netsafe was officially incorporated as a society.
Our positive technology stance and innovative campaigns were well-received across different communities. Understanding the importance of education, Netsafe released its first ‘Netsafe Kit for Schools’. This free program empowered schools and kura to promote online safety, citizenship, and wellbeing within their communities.
2002: Phone Support Service
Recognising the need for accessible support, Netsafe introduced its phone support service. People could confidentially call 0508 NETSAFE to seek advice and support for various online issues, knowing they would receive non-judgmental assistance.
2005: Hectors World
Hector’s World was a groundbreaking initiative to teach young people about safe online practices and digital citizenship.
Featuring Hector the dolphin and his friends, this program provided essential guidance for teachers and parents, fostering a culture of online responsibility.
The Netbasics animation series, designed for school students, used animated videos to educate people about online safety.
2009: Empowering Parents with inmyday.org.nz
Netsafe launched inmyday.org.nz, a resource for parents to facilitate essential conversations about online safety with their children. This initiative emphasised the importance of the parent-child dialogue in navigating the digital world.
2009: thewhatsit.org.nz for Small Businesses
Recognising the unique challenges faced by small businesses, Netsafe introduced thewhatsit.org.nz. This platform allowed small companies to access policies and training materials to enhance their understanding of online risks.
2010: The Online Reporting Button (ORB)
Netsafe took a significant step in addressing online offences and crimes by introducing the Online Reporting Button (ORB). This platform allowed people to report online misconduct, routing reports to the appropriate authorities.
It now handles hundreds of reports each week.
2010: The Scam Machine
Scams have plagued the online world for years. Netsafe’s response was the creation of the Scam Machine, a tool designed to help users identify scams. This initiative aimed to empower people to protect themselves from online fraud.
2011: Cyber Security Awareness Week
Netsafe took a lead role in fostering awareness about cybersecurity with the establishment of Cyber Security Awareness Week. This initiative gave consumers and small businesses resources to enhance their online safety knowledge.
2013: Staying Safe Online Guide
Collaborating with major online platforms, including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, Netsafe published the Staying Safe Online Guide. This comprehensive resource, distributed to schools across New Zealand, was crucial in educating users about online safety.
2014: Safer Internet Day
Netsafe became the national convenor for the global movement Safer Internet Day. This initiative, celebrated every February, raises awareness of online safety. Netsafe continues to lead New Zealand’s involvement in this vital campaign.
2016: Harmful Digital Communications Act
Netsafe was responsible for providing support under the Harmful Digital Communications Act. While not an enforcement agency, Netsafe provides an alternative dispute resolution scheme and a gateway to District Court processes.
2017: Trans-Tasman Conference
In partnership with the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner, Netsafe co-hosted the first trans-tasman conference for online safety practitioners.
2018: Automated Scam Response – Re:Scam
With the rise in scam reports, Netsafe introduced an automated scam response tool that uses AI to identify common scams and provide immediate guidance to users, ensuring 24/7 support.
2018: Youth Action Squad (YAS)
Netsafe recognised the importance of involving young people in online safety discussions and created the Youth Action Squad (YAS). This initiative empowers rangatahi to lead initiatives, spark conversations, and enact positive change in the digital World.
2020: Responding to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Netsafe to launch the “Stay Connected, Stay Safe” campaign. As people relied more on the internet during lockdowns, Netsafe provided crucial resources to ensure better online experiences.
2020: Fighting misinformation
Netsafe undertook a groundbreaking survey on misinformation and created the “Your News Bulletin” campaign to educate people on spotting fake news.
2021: Netsafe reappointed aS approved agency under the Harmful Digital Communications Act
2021 also saw the launch of Netsafety Week, dedicated to discussing online safety issues in the last week of July each year. Netsafe ends 2021 by convening the draft Aotearoa New Zealand Online Safety Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms.
2022: Harmful Digital Communication Act amended
Netsafe’s campaigning and data insights result in the welcomed amendment that it is now a punishable offence if a person posts an intimate image without the consent of the person who is the subject of the image.
2023: Micro-Learning education products with bite-sized lessons
A new online learning platform is launched for schools, providing teachers with a suite of interactive resources and facilitator notes that can be used in classrooms by students as they learn the key topics of online safety.