Study: Parents Should Protect Kids Online, Not Technology

Jan 15, 2009 1:00 PM PST
CYBERSPACE — A new study backed by 49 state attorneys general said that responsibility for protecting children online lies with parents and mentors, and not in the hands of agencies that develop age-verification technology.

The report comes down from the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, an online safety task force founded by Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The task force includes the 39 state attorneys general, as well as executives from Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo, Verizon and AOL.

Among its findings, the report found that when it comes to online safety, children may be their own worst enemy.

"Minors are not equally at risk online," the report said. "Those who are most at risk often engage in risky behavior and have difficulties in other parts of their lives."

More important, however, was the report's appraisal of age-verification technology. The report dismissed them in favor of doing it the old-fashioned way.

The report said that Internet companies "should not overly rely upon any single technology or group of technologies as the primary solution. Parents, teachers, mentors, social services, law enforcement and minors themselves all have crucial roles to play in ensuring online safety for all minors."

ASACP CEO Joan Irvine echoed and applauded the report's findings.

“ASACP and the adult industry have made significant strides to help parents to protect children from viewing age-inappropriate content online with the Restricted To Adults website label," she told XBIZ. "However, even though the adult industry is doing their part, as discussed in the report presented by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force at the Congressional Net Caucus State of the Net, parents need to do their part by installing and utilizing parental filtering software and monitoring their children."

Irvine added that ASACP has been trying to raise the profile of its RTA label with short PSAs that feature prominent adult performers. Last week the company unveiled a new PSA starring Vivid contract star Sunny Leone.

Also worth noting was the report's finding that minors are often solicited for sexual activity online by other minors.

"Youth report sexual solicitation of minors by minors more frequently, but these incidents, too, are understudied, underreported to law enforcement, and not part of most conversations about online safety," the report said.

The report also noted the prevalence of bullying and harassment of children online, a finding that dovetailed with YouTube's recent launch of an abuse and safety center.

Social networking websites also acquitted themselves well in the report. Sentinel Tech Holding CEO John Cardillo was a part of the task force. His company maintains a sex offender database.

"This shows that social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet," he said. "Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons."

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