There Is No Foolproof Guide to Online Safety

By: Absolute Team | 2/12/2009

A task force that was charged to assess technologies for protecting children from unwanted online contact has put together a report. The report indicates that no single approach is a guarantee or foolproof system to protect kids. Therefore, they encourage that parents and teachers continue with vital oversight of Internet usage.

The Internet Safety Technical Task Force (ISTTF) out of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society was created in February 2008 by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking and MySpace. After a year of study, the final report was presented to the 52 Attorneys General in December of 2008. The task force was made up of a group of 29 Internet businesses, non-profits, academics and tech companies.

The report found that the risks minors face online are not significantly different than those they face offline - though they are complex and multifaceted. Part of this conclusion was drawn from a lack of data about sexual predators using social networking sites. As they age, the report found that minors were contributing to some of the problems they face online.

Interesting conclusions from the study:

  • Bullying and harassment - mostly by peers - are the most frequent threats both online and offline
  • Unwanted exposure to pornography does occur online, but mostly to those seeking it out
  • Social networking sites are not the most common space for solicitation and unwanted exposure to problematic content - though they are used by peer-to-peer cyberbullies
  • Minors most at-risk online are those who engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other areas of their lives - psychological makeup and family dynamics predict risk better than use of certain technologies
  • Almost all technologies present privacy and security issues
  • Social networking sites have been aggressively pursuing technologies that promote safety for minors - innovation is promising

The report concludes that there are promising developments in technologies to protect kids online but that such technologies are not enough:

"Technology can play a helpful role, but there is no one technological solution or specific combination of technological solutions to the problem of online safety for minors. Instead, a combination of technologies, in concert with parental oversight, education, social services, law enforcement, and sound policies by social network sites and service providers may assist in addressing specific problems that minors face online."

The task force set out a series of suggestions for the Internet community, the Attorneys General, to parents and more. They point out that more resources should be allocated to all the many-faceted stakeholders working to protect minors online.

See the report presented and debated in this video and download the final report here.


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