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“We have to keep children safe online”: How Philip uses his day job to make a difference

When he’s at work, Philip Meyer helps Microsoft’s partners build secure and scalable cloud technologies. As a Partner Technology Strategist with over 40 years of experience – 32 of them at Microsoft ANZ – he is an expert in everything from cloud to compliance.

But there’s more to Philip than his nine-to-five.

He’s also a husband, a dad to two daughters, the proud owner of two dogs and, most recently, a grandad. And it was this aspect of Philip’s life that led him to found ThinkUKnow Australia, a community that fights online child exploitation with one of the most powerful tools in the world: education.

An unexpected challenge

About 20 years ago, one of Philip’s daughters stumbled across something inappropriate online.

“It was the early days of the internet,” he remembers. “She was in primary school and was sent home to do some research. So, she jumped on a computer and started searching. She typed one character wrong and up came some explicit material.”

Being a technical person, Philip knew what to do on a practical front. But what about his daughter’s emotional welfare?

“It was a chance to explore with her what images are of herself and of others are appropriate, and what shouldn’t be shared,” he explains.

“We also talked about chat forums. I said, ‘Would you invite these people over to our place for tea or to play?’ and she said, ‘No, because I don’t know them’. I said, ‘That’s right, so you shouldn’t get to know them on the internet.”

Instigating change

Philip got to thinking further on the issue. He read about a UK-based organisation called Child Exploitation and Online Protection, and realised that something similar was required in Australia to protect children in the same way.

Julie Inman-Grant, who is now the Australian eSafety Commissioner, was Microsoft’s Director of Internet Safety and Security at the time. When Philip suggested his concept to Julie and other colleagues at Microsoft, they unanimously agreed that the idea was worth pursuing. Together, they reached out to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Along with the AFP, Julie picked up the concept, set up the program and handed the reins over to Philip.

Empowering carers to empower kids

While the AFP owns the program, now known as ThinkUKnow Australia, Philip’s involvement has meant that Microsoft is one of the sanctioned organisations that provides volunteers to support it.

Philip and volunteers like him travel to schools and community centres across Australia, talking to parents and carers about how they can empower children and teenagers in their care to use technology safely and ethically.

“We explain what image-based abuse, cyber-grooming and sextortion is. We educate people on how to understand when a scam or phishing attack is occurring,” says Philip.

It’s an education opportunity on how to deal with these things on the internet and how to report them. It’s not about selling Microsoft products. That’s not allowed. It’s about the children.

“You saved my child”

ThinkUKnow Australia has now been running for 14 years, and currently includes 70 Microsoft employees who present alongside police officers to school and community groups.

The response from attendees has been overwhelming at times.

“One of the most impactful instances was when we went back to a school we had visited previously,” Philip recalls. “A parent approached me and said, ‘I want to express how profoundly I appreciate what you shared with me so many years ago.

“‘My daughter was being groomed and it was only through what you shared with us that we noticed the signs. We could then have the conversation with her and prevent it from happening. You saved my child.’ That really gets you when you feel you have made that level of impact.”

“This is the more”

Being able to support ThinkUKnow Australia alongside his day-to-day work as a technologist is something Philip feels immensely grateful for.

“That’s the culture of Microsoft,” he explains. “Yes, you have your day job, but they’re there to support you if you’ve got an idea that’s important to the needs of others.”

It’s one of the key ingredients that I think attracts people to Microsoft. They empower people to do more than just their jobs, and indeed, this is the more.

Looking to the future, Philip wants to continue the program’s growth. With the help of translators and interpreters, ThinkUKnow is already presented in several languages, including Korean, Chinese and Somali. But he is on a mission to reach even more families, particularly those with children and adolescents who might be more vulnerable.

“Sadly, there’s a large number of children who don’t have the protection they need,” he explains. “And where their parents aren’t around, it’s about finding an aunt, an uncle or even a friend who we can get into one of our sessions.

“By educating them, we can enable them to build that bridge with the child in their lives. That in turn gives those children the confidence and trust to say, ‘Something just didn’t feel right the other day’.

We have to keep children safe online, and I will do what I can to help make that happen. Empowering people can have incredible outcomes for individuals and the world.”