Saturday, 16 October 2010

Online safety

The other night I caught a documentary about Bullies Online part of which focused on the issues of Internet access on mobile phones. Kids cannot run home now to escape from the bullies if they have any form of Internet access there. The parents of one boy were not able to help him as he was not willing to talk to them about the problems he was having. Ultimately, the boy killed himself. This is sad on so many levels - that he couldn't talk to his parents about his problems, that he was not able to have a safe haven at home and that the impact of bullying is still woefully misunderstood/hidden.
As a mobile phone designer, I had to spend some time thinking about the balance of safety for children vs. respecting their privacy/not treating children like idiots.
OK you can put filters in place to protect children but these must enable them to get to the content they are interested in. Social networking and location based services add complications. Other considerations were cost, parental control and how to handle abusive situations.
When you buy a handset and can prove you are 18+ then content is open to you. If you then pass this phone onto your child, IT'S UP TO YOU to ask for the 18+ content to be turned off. It's also up to you to ensure that wifi, bluetooth and location based services are controlled as these are normally done from within the handset and not by the operator.
So not only do you have to refresh your Maths, English and Science skills but you have to be an IT whizz. Ultimately though our kids need to learn how to steer themselves safely too - learn what is appropriate content and behaviour online and to talk to either us or some other responsible adult if they come across or are sent the wrong sort of things.

Luckily there is help on hand in the form of advice:
Childnet fact sheets on safety

Mobile operators advice: the operators seem to differ wildly in their approach to this issue.
Vodafone have advice on safety online but only when you sign up to their Vodafone 360 (so basically rubbish)
Three have an advice page
Orange have an excellent help page on Orange safeguard
Microsoft online safety advice - includes a page which breaks down child safety a bit more. Is for the PC but could equally apply to their mobile internet devices
02 - very impressed with their easy to find section about Young People's services on their home page which links to an excellent page of child protection advice. Well done 02.

Other resources
Child Explotation and Online Protection: to help protect against child sexual abuse online

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