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Home > Business > Special

Playing Net nanny

Priyanka Joshi in New Delhi | April 11, 2007

One out of five children who use computer chat rooms have been approached over the Internet by paedophiles. Six out of 10 online teens have received an email or instant message from a perfect stranger and 63 per cent of those who receive such messages respond to strangers.

"Porn may be an issue parents can wrap their arms around, but they need to talk about it being readily available on the Web. Online issues are much too complex to be tamed by edicts such as 'Don't talk to strangers'," says Timothy Cranton, senior director (legal and corporate affairs - worldwide Internet safety programs), Microsoft.

Teenagers are logging on to the Net more than ever before, playing games, chatting with friends and getting help with schoolwork. Yes, the Internet has opened up a whole new world for them.

But protecting children online is a challenging issue because predators use both technical and social engineering to mask their intent. Areas full of sex, violence, drugs, and other adult themes are just an example of possible danger that lurks in the virtual world.

The ways in which one can access the Net include the handhelds, laptops and even gaming consoles like Xbox 360 or Playstation. "Millions of schoolchildren possess naive attitudes about their online safety and engage in a range of high-risk behaviour. File-sharing programmes, a popular trend among youngsters, can expose them to pornography or automatically X-rated images without them realising it," reveals Cranton. In fact, 70 per cent of sexual advances over the Internet happened while youngsters were on a home computer!

"When it comes to kids on the Net, the possible danger of interacting one-on-one with strangers is a far greater threat than the potential harm of viewing X-rated images," feels Katherine Bostick, senior director, legal and corporate affairs, Microsoft.

Thus, it becomes necessary for parents to use any Internet content filtering software such as Net Nanny, CyberPatrol or enable the inbuilt controls on Microsoft operating systems. Net Nanny uses dynamic contextual analysis to filter web content.

Filtering and blocking software programmes are some of the most popular answers in the market. "Secure child-safe browsers, which limit a child's surfing to kids' Websites, and digital signatures and certificates, which attempt to verify that a parent has given a child permission to do something online, are two examples of other innovations we hope parents will adopt," says Deepak Maheshwari, director (legal and corporate affairs), Microsoft.

Although video content, found in plenty on sites like YouTube, Soapbox among others, cannot be filtered for adult or violent content, the only option for such video streaming sites is to block them off completely.

Rather than block access to certain sites, other software programmes, such as CyberSnoop, Cyber Sentinel and Spector, may be used to track where children have gone.

However, parents cannot rely fully on technology to keep kids safe from the Web's dark side. Parental supervision remains of primary importance.

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