Campaign calls for greater online protection for children

Children are a click away from accessing pornography, violent videos and being exposed to cyber-bullying, an online child safety group has warned.

Internet Matters has launched a campaign urging parents to put parental controls on all internet-enabled devices to protect their children from harmful content. The safety group is backed by the UK’s largest broadband providers: BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media.

The campaign, called Protect their Curiosity, uses a series of video to promote the biggest concerns around internet protection. One shows how a boy’s search for pirates can lead to seeing disturbing footage of a Somali pirates’ siege, while another features a girl accidentally becoming the subject of a ‘sexting’ message chain when an image she shared with a friend is quickly distributed by others.

Internet Matters general manager Carolyn Bunting said: “The videos might be uncomfortable viewing, but we wanted to show the reality of how a child's innocent curiosity can turn in to a distressing experience in just one click.

“Kids want to use the web in safety. They don't want to be scared of what they might click on. A big step towards this lies with parents switching on every parental control available.”

The campaign follows in the wake of research by the group that found that more than half of parents in the UK (53 per cent) don't use parental controls, and 58 per cent haven't applied any passwords to their smart devices.

Ms Bunting added: “The internet is the most important invention of our time – if not all time. As parents, we should encourage our children to explore and enjoy the freedom of the internet. But we have a responsibility to protect their curiosity and prevent them from seeing stuff they don't want to see.

“In the same way that parents teach their children how to swim, cross the road or ride a bike, they need to spend time with their kids online to ensure they are safe on the digital highways of the internet.”

Last week, in a vote for the top ten clauses that the public would like to see included in a digital Magna Carta, safety and cyber-bullying were at the forefront of the debate among young people. According to a ComRes analysis, 29 per cent of students opted for protecting young people and preventing bullying on the web, while some even called for ‘cyber police’ to patrol the internet.

However, the news that South Korea is making parents keep track of their children by tracking their smartphones has sparked a global debate about how tight such measures should be. The government now requires that teenagers install spy app Smart Sheriff on their smartphones – all new phones sold to those aged 18 must have it. When installed, the app provides parents with a means to see what sites are being accessed, to block sites and to send warning notifications.

Smart Sheriff and similar apps alert parents to the browsing behaviour of their children, block access to websites deemed undesirable and raise the alarm over searches such as “pregnancy”,  “run away from home”, “suicide” and “bullying”.

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