Never alone: Protecting kids on the internet
By Dirk Averesch Sep 23, 2007, 17:46 GMT
Stuttgart - The internet and the wealth of information and entertainment found on it aren't just a draw for adults. Even the smallest of children quickly feel the pull of the world wide web.
What's important is that these young surfers not be left alone to explore that universe of content, much of it inappropriate for children. They should instead be given parental guidance, with special software to help with that process. Just as crucially, children must be taught basic rules of behaviour to ward off virtual predators.
'In the end, parents need to set up rules and see that they are observed,' says Julia Christiani from ProPK, a government-funded crime prevention organization in Stuttgart. One major step is achieved when a child learns and internalizes that names, addresses, telephone numbers, passwords and other sensitive data should never be revealed.
'That helps guard against ill-intentioned persons looking to make contact, arrange meetings or phish for personal information,' Christiani says.
These dangers frequently lurk in chat rooms. A favourite visiting spot for kids, chat rooms provide space for people of similar interests to come together and type messages to one another.
One tool for ensuring that children are alone with other children, and not being spied on, threatened or harassed, is moderated chats for children. Everything that is typed is first checked by a moderator before being released onto the screen. For the German- language chat room 'Seitenstark,' for example, communications students from the University of Leipzig handle the moderating chores.
It is imperative that parents put time limits on their children's web usage.
'You should demonstrate responsible interaction with the internet by not just surfing the web yourself all day,' Christiani advises. To prevent children from surfing - unintentionally or not-to pages with violent or pornographic content, parents have to be vigilant about looking over their children's shoulders or else forbid web surfing entirely.
One more realistic solution is software known as filter programs. They scan websites for specific characteristics or keywords, blocking access where necessary. Parents can upload or subscribe to pre-set black lists of web sites, as well as a white list of sites that are appropriate for children.
Yet filters are no silver bullet either. 'Child filters currently can provide a limited amount of protection at best when calling up internet pages. They're powerless against chatting and mailing,' reports the German internet security portal of the European Union, Klicksafe.de. Even the best child filters allow one in five inappropriate sites to get through.
None of which means that parents should forgo filters. On the contrary, they are important pieces in a larger mosaic of security that also must include parental supervision. Free filter programs recommended by the EU include Jusprog and ICRAplus. Internet service providers like T-Online and AOL also offer filter system for their customers.
'A very good filter is in fact already built in to Windows Vista,' says Samuel Voetter, an Internet expert at the State Criminal Police Office of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
If parents are uncertain which sites their children are frequenting, they can examine the traces. 'You can periodically browse through the browser's history and get an overview of where the child has been,' Voetter says. Vista will even log brief visits to websites if desired.
Another option is to set up time-restricted accounts and access restrictions to specific programs and games to prevent kids from spending too much time on the net or in front of the monitor.
'For all of these measures to succeed, you first need to set up several user accounts on a computer,' advises Stuttgart-based Connect magazine.
In this configuration, the parents function as administrators, while children are provided with restricted accounts that prevent them from circumventing the filter. It is imperative that the parents use secure passwords for their accounts, to prevent intrepid kids from making changes to the settings. After all, in many households it is the children, not the parents, who have the upper hand when it comes to computing skills.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur