How to Make the Internet Safe for Younger Surfers; It. Mail

Article excerpt

Byline: JUSTIN HUNT

THE need to police young people's usage of the internet effectively and to prevent deliberate or accidental access to pornographic and other unsuitable material should be carefully considered by parents, teachers and those developing online content for children, says the NOP Research Group.

According to its recent survey, about half a million children in Britain claim they have been 'upset' by something they have found on the internet.

So what can parents do? What practical precautions can they take? And if you or your children do discover unsuitable material online, to whom should you report it?

To help remove parents' fears, the

internet industry has set up a body called the Internet Watch Foundation (www.iwf.org.uk).

It operates a hotline (01223 236077) that people can contact to report any potentially harmful material - all reports of criminal activity are forwarded to the police.

IWF's chief executive, David Kerr, says he receives more reports about child pornography than anything else. 'I would hope one day there will be no illegal material available over the internet but I think it is a vain hope,' he says.

'You just cannot prevent it being

put there. It's an international problem.' Despite the uphill struggle, the IWF is confident that an internet content ratings system, produced by the non-profit-making Recreational Software Advisory Council (www.rsac.org), could help to turn the situation around.

The RSAC system gives parents and teachers the opportunity to control how children use the internet and can block access to potentially harmful material.

The software is the internet's equivalent of the bobby on the beat and is available in the world's two most popular internet browsers, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator.

When you are connecting to the internet for the first time, you can ask your service provider to install this software for you if it is not already on your PC. The RSAC sys-

tem enables you to monitor usage of the internet across a group of categories, including sex and violence.

By simply clicking with your mouse, you can activate the censorship options and vet the type of material your children will be able to see.

The system also has the support of a UK charity, Childnet International (www.childnet-int.org), which works around the world to promote the interests of children in international communications.

CHILDNET International and the IWF hope that all internet website publishers will rate their material against agreed guidelines and attach descriptive labels to their sites to inform viewers of the contents.

Charities are not the only organisations that are seeking to create a safer online environment for children.

Commercial software packages are being launched which enable you to filter the content of the internet, block out certain websites and prevent your children from receiving unwanted email. …