KEEPING  THE  INTERNET  SAFE  FOR  KIDS

MANILA, September 26, 2005
 (STAR) By Eden Estopace - While the Internet is a great tool for education – books, music, movies, lessons, scientific discoveries, ancient texts and literally anything of value can be downloaded, exchanged or passed freely at broadband speed – it can also be used as an instrument to exploit the very young.

In praise of technology, educators have been singing the lore of the World Wide Web like an enchanter weaving a magical world akin to Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth or C. S. Lewis’ Narnia.

In the digital universe, who can dispute the power of the Internet when it provides the means for the vast knowledge stored in the world’s databases to be shared across millions of computers?

But even in real life and in a world made smaller and less daunting by technology, what ancient wisdom say is still true: every great power has a dark side.

While the Internet is a great tool for education – books, music, movies, lessons, scientific discoveries, ancient texts and literally anything of value can be downloaded, exchanged or passed freely at broadband speed – it can also be used as an instrument to exploit the very young.

We all accept the premise that technology is a means rather than an end but for all humankind’s positive intentions, it could always be misused as a convenient tool on the road to perdition.

In June 2004, an 18-year-old student at Bristol University in the UK sold her virginity on e-Bay for £8,400. According to reports, the deal (with a 44-year-old man) was consummated in a run-down hotel north of London.

A month later, a teenage boy in Korea also reportedly offered his virginity for sale on an Internet auction website. The bidding was closed after three hours with a 300,000 won ($300) price tag.

Both websites and governments involved said that while the bids were taken offline after several hours, it was very difficult to monitor online posts of this kind or prevent them from being posted in the first place. And how could the parents of these two teeners have known their online activities when they used the PC and the Internet at home for educational purposes?

Three Approaches

It is, however, comforting to know that what problems technology has unleashed, technology can also solve.

An awareness campaign on making the Internet safe to use by children was launched in the Philippines recently by Computer Associates, a US-based management software company.

"While the Internet can be a great source of information for homework and research, parents should also be aware that children should be protected when using this technology," said Joy Balmadres, country manager of CA Philippines, in a statement.

Auctioning one’s virginity on the Internet may be an extreme form of online mischief that will not be replicated by most kids. Yet, according the Netsmarts.org, an educational safety resource of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), children face harmful content on the Internet, including nudity or sexually explicit materials, hate groups or racist websites, promotional materials about tobacco, alcohol or drugs; graphic violence; information on satanic or cult groups; or even recipes for making bombs or other explosives.

Balmadres said there are three practical tips that parents should keep in mind to minimize these risks to children – self-education, securing the PC, and talking to children.

Educate yourself – Being aware of the risks that children are exposed to when they are online is the first and most important step. Yet, this is also the most difficult considering that most parents who now have teenage children didn’t get to use the computer until they were adults. But today’s kids have started taking computer lessons in kindergarten. You have to accept that in the technological realm, you are in an uneven footing with your tech-savvy kids. They know the territory better than you do.

According to a Parent’s Monitoring study posted by Netsmartz.org, over half of parents either don’t have or don’t know if they have software on their computers that monitors where their teenagers go online and with whom they interact, and about 42 percent do not review the content of what their teenagers read or type in chatrooms or via instant messaging. Most parents also don’t know the meanings of some of the most commonly used phrases in Instant Messaging systems or chatrooms, and nearly three out of 10 parents don’t know or are not sure if their teens talk to strangers online.

This is not to turn parents into tech sleuths or bring hacking and wiretapping technology into the home. But in this case, what you don’t know may hurt your kids.

Piti Pramotedham, managing director of CA Asia South, in his presentation to journalists of the dangers of the Internet for young people, demonstrated a Google search using the words "animal, farm, horse," typical words that a grade schooler may need to find info on the Net. The search yielded a lot of URLs for zoos, the animal kingdom and farmhouses but among the hundreds or so links connected to the search word is a porn site that goes by the name of animalfarmhorse.com and a site on bestiality, horse sex and animal porn at amazingforum.com.

In this case, a Web filtering software can block content from inappropriate websites and links related to pornography and other adult content such as gambling, tobacco and alcohol use, illegal drugs or sexual deviations.

Familiarizing oneself with the jargon of the PC and Internet requires patience but the investment you put in this may make the difference for your child’s emerging concept of and use of technology.

Pramotedham said that according to a study in the United States, 19 percent of children reported getting an unwanted sexual solicitation, especially while in chatrooms, 25 percent reported receiving "unwanted exposure to pictorial images of naked people," specially while searching or surfing the Internet, and 67 percent reported that these negative Internet experiences happened at home.

Secure the family computer – It is often said that while we spend a good deal of money on protecting our homes and our cars from thieves, intruders and criminal syndicates, we have yet to adopt the same vigilance when it comes to our personal computers, especially the ones used by the youngest members of our families.

Threats to our cyber security are getting numerous: spyware, spam mails, adult content, computer worms and viruses, and all types of predators that aim to exploit the gullibility of young people.

Web filtering software can be an effective tool for managing children’s access to the Internet as they block websites, news, mails, instant messaging systems or chatrooms which you specify as inappropriate for your young Internet users. Some Web filters also function as Web monitors or "keyloggers" which remember every activity done online or offline in the family PC, including keeping records of chat sessions and e-mail exchanges.

A home PC firewall, on the other hand, prevents hackers or spammers from "hijacking" your PC, stealing confidential information from your files, and loading viruses onto your computer.

And did you know that the Windows XP (with SP2) operating system has a built-in firewall and all you need to do is to switch it on to prevent unauthorized users from gaining unauthorized access to your computers through the Internet?

Fortunately, the World Wide Web offers a vast array of resources that are designed to teach parents the rudiments of cyber security beyond these basics. Type "keeping the Internet safe for kids" on the Google search bar and it will return millions of links related to the topic.

CA has also partnered with publisher McGraw-Hill Professional to offer consumer security software application bundled with the recently released book "Keep Your Kids Safe on the Internet." CA said that if you purchase the book online, it comes with a copy of CA’s eTrust EZ Antivirus 2005 security software, one of the products reviewed in the book. It sells for about $15 online. A visit and call to some of the major bookstores in Metro Manila, however, showed that the book is not yet available here.

Talk to your kids – Last March, a Shanghai online game player stabbed to death a competitor who sold his cyber sword, used in the popular online game Legend of Mir 3, for 7,200 yuan. The suspect was allegedly enraged that the police ignored his complaint about the theft of his cyber weapon as there were no laws yet governing "lost" virtual objects. In Singapore, a 22-year-old jobless man got a 13-year-old girl pregnant. The two were chatline friends.

These are social problems spawned by the emerging Internet culture that no amount of technology can possibly filter but only parental supervision can control. Internet addiction, for one, is an emerging trend in technologically advanced countries.

It is said that the way teenagers are have not changed across centuries. Ban the PC or the Internet from home and they will go underground; the Internet cafés are convenient enough playrooms and offer cheap online thrills without the prying eyes of adults.

Pramotedham said the best way is still a dialogue with the kids on the dangers posed by the Internet. It is important, he said, that children feel trusted and their privacy not violated by adults. Working together on this can be tough on both sides but CA shares these practical surfing tips for parents to share with their children:

• Don’t talk to strangers online. Avoid anyone who asks personal questions or requests for photos. Do not respond to message boards, chat requests or websites that contain rude language.

• Never give out personal information such as your address, telephone number or account password.

•Don’t meet up with people you chat with online.

•Never believe everything you read on the Internet.

CA is actually looking for partners in the Philippines to broaden the reach of this educational campaign. "Technology is not the problem, technology will always evolve to fit the world’s needs. Only a sustained campaign on the responsible use of technology and the Internet will make a difference," Pramotedham said.

For inquiries on possible partnership with this Internet advocacy, contact Joy Balmadres at 885-00441 or e-mail joy.balmadres@ca.com.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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