du child web safety scheme a great move

05 Apr 2012

I’m increasingly interested in web security for children, so news that du staff have been voluntarily educating youngsters aged 6 years to 12 years caught my eye.

Children are using the internet more and more, with some scary stats recently including details that the biggest users of Apple’s iPads are toddlers aged two years old. While security education for children of that age tends to focus on parent’s disabling access to certain applications – those that spend real money, for example –, I think talking directly to older kids is a good idea.

Parents have been warned for years, now, about the potential dangers of the web to themselves and their children. Solid advice including keeping the family PC in a public room, and advising about online ‘stranger danger’ have worked well until now, when most families tended to have only a desktop PC in their house.

But the shift to mobile devices – tablets, laptops and smartphones – poses a fresh risk. Put simply, children are increasingly exposed to the Internet without parental supervision. That trend means more must be done to alert the children themselves about the potential dangers.

du doesn’t give much detail on the meat of its education program, which it conducted as part of the Dubai police safety education week, stating simply that it taught the children how to safely use the Internet. “Educating children of this age group is vital to ensuring a safer community, both online and offline. Between the age of 6 – 12, children are becoming more aware of their world and should be educated on the ways in which they can benefit it from, as well as on the potential dangers that they can stumble upon,” the statement revealed.

Interestingly, du’s program also involved activities using games consoles – another means of children accessing the wider world.

What I hope du’s scheme included – and that other telcos, cellcos and ISPs will pick up on – is some information on computer viruses in addition to the regular stuff about posting personal info online and talking to strangers (an even more difficult area for parents to police in that games console example). As mature web users, we tend to now be naturally cautious about clicking rogue links, or opening e-mails we’re not expecting from people we don’t know.

My question is how you impart that same sense of caution in children – particularly those in the bracket taught by du staff?

It’s a subject I believe the communications providers need to handle, though, rather than relying on national government intervention or more regulation. It may be good if operators team up to offer some clear guidance to parents, and is also something for over-the-top service providers to get involved in. How, for example, do you disable access to video sites like YouTube or restrict the content available to minors?

In the meantime, full praise to du for taking the initiative. Being given the facts by a dedicated security professional is a great move, and one that surely backs up the message parents are trying to get across.

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