New Zealand company signs deal with Samsung to develop 'kids-safe' phone

A New Zealand company has signed a deal with Samsung to develop a child-safe phone to protect our tamariki online.

The amount of extreme sexual and violent content available on the internet has soared in recent years, leaving children vulnerable to stumbling across it.

But now a petition signed by 10,000 people is calling on the Government to force providers to filter out such content.

Sexual health and parental consultants Holly Brooker and Jo Robertson are sick of the lack of regulation around illegal online content accessible to our tamariki.

"I was told, let's say seven years ago, there was going to be change and that was only going to be a few years away," said Robertson.

"And there's been zero action since then."

And the problem is just getting worse.

"There has been a 1000 percent increase in known sexual images of 7-10 year olds online since 2019. In 2022 there was a 60 percent increase of child sexual content across the internet," Robertson told Newshub.

"So this is an increasing issue and yet our Government is currently only filtering 271 URLs."

They're behind a petition calling on the Government to require internet providers to filter the content. At the moment, it's only voluntary.

"It's blown my mind to find out that this type of content is actually available online and the Government does have a filter," said Brooker.

"It's called the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System, but it's just doing a very poor job of actually filtering anything."

But Internal Affairs Minister Brooke van Velden, who oversees the system, doesn't see the need to mandate filters.

"What we want to see first is a voluntary regime. It appears that all of the large providers have come to the table," van Velden told Newshub.

"You've got One New Zealand, which used to be Vodafone, you've got 2 Degrees, Spark. Nobody wants to see child exploitative material online accessible for children, or adults for that matter, but I'm aware that this is already underway and seems to be working well."

But many parents disagree and have taken the issue into their own hands.

Rory Birkbeck started an at-home internet filtering service, called Safe Surfer in 2016.

"It's hugely reassuring everyday to know that level of protection is in place for families," Birkbeck said.

And he's just announced a partnership with Samsung, to develop a "kids-safe" phone.

"It just means New Zealand families are going to be able to go and buy a phone out of the box, which will be a smartphone, but they can actually tone it down, or they can dumb it down."