Today sees 28 of the world’s biggest technology and media companies join forces to “deliver a better Internet for our children.”

The coalition is formed from companies that operate in EU states, covering handset manufacturers, operating system providers, Internet Service Providers, broadcasters, social networks and mobile operators. Apple, Google, Facebook, Nokia, and many top European tech and media firms have signed up so far.

The group was put together by the European Commission (EC) and the priority actions set out include making it easier to report harmful content, ensuring privacy settings are age-appropriate, and offering wider options for parental control.

“This new coalition should provide both children and parents with transparent and consistent protection tools to make the most of the online world”, says Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President. “The founding coalition members are already leaders in children’s safety online. Working together we will be setting the pace for the whole industry and have a great basis for fully empowering children online.”

Here’s Kroes discussing the EC safe Internet initiative.

The founding coalition members have agreed on a Statement of Purpose, covering five key areas:

  • Simple and robust reporting tools: easy-to-find and recognisable features on all devices to enable effective reporting of and responses to content and contacts that seem harmful to kids;
  • Age-appropriate privacy settings: settings which take account of the needs of different age groups (such settings determine how widely available a user’s information is; for example whether contact details or photos are available only to close contacts rather than to the general public);
  • Wider use of content classification: to develop a generally valid approach to age-rating, which could be used across sectors and provide parents with understandable age categories;
  • Wider availability and use of parental control: user-friendly tools actively promoted to achieve the widest possible take-up;
  • Effective take-down of child abuse material: to improve cooperation with law enforcement and hotlines, to take proactive steps to remove child sexual abuse material from the internet.

The Commission hopes that the solutions developed by the founding members will be accepted by more companies, and it stresses that new members will be welcomed to join the coalition.

On average, children in Europe start going online when they are seven, and over a third of 9-to-12 year-olds who go online say they have a social networking profile, despite age restrictions. Almost a third of children who go online do so from a mobile device, whilst 26% do so via game consoles.

Keeping children safe online is a key commitment of the Digital Agenda for Europe, and is a focus at local level across Europe.

The full coalition members are as follows: Apple, BSkyB, BT, Dailymotion, Deutsche Telekom AG, Facebook, Google, Hyves, KPN, Liberty Global, LG Electronics, Mediaset, Microsoft, Netlog, Nintendo, Nokia, Opera Software, Orange, Research in Motion, RTL Group, Samsung, Sulake, Telefonica, TeliaSonera, Telenor Group, Tuenti, Vivendi and Vodafone.

“Over the years, we’ve dedicated significant engineering and educational resources to providing families with choice, transparency, and security”, says Simon Hampton, Director Public Policy, Google in a blog post today. “Our SafeSearch Lock enables parents to block offensive content; our flagging system and Safety Center on YouTube provide an easy way to report abuse and find support from professionals. We also regularly run pragmatic digital literacy campaigns – the most recent being our “Good to Know” initiative (in English and German), in partnership with citizens’ advice organisations.”