While talking with a former colleague and local Assistant United States Attorney recently, the conversation turned to the proliferation of the depravity of content related to and directed at children on the internet. Among other things, this AUSA prosecutes peddlers of kiddie-porn, and said that, while he wishes he could say his office has become bored since I left, with no more people to prosecute, that is far from the case. One look online (or in the junk mail box of anyone unfortunate enough to get on a marketing list for distributors of Canadian Viagra or “personals”-type websites), and proof of perversion abounds.
This was at the forefront of my worries when trying to figure out what type of computer I should send my daughter to school with this year. Even more than the price and the complexity of the choices in front of me (ranging from operating systems, to size, to memory, to touch-screen capabilities, to DVD vice Blue-Ray player, ad infinitum), the need for parental controls was at the top of my list of priorities.
Thinking about my conversation with my former colleague, the AUSA, I went online to get some insight. Luckily, through their implementation of Project Safe Childhood, the Department of Justice had plenty of information to offer on the dangers children are exposed to on the internet (and the dangers of the exploitation of children on the internet – which makes me want to lock my daughter in the closet, basement or local monastery….well, not really, but close!).
This information drove me back to my original goal, to learn more about parental controls. Having grappled with the tools of parental controls before (with mixed success in terms of being able to figure out how to set it up and prevent it from rendering the computer useless without a password from me for every Google search), I looked for reviews on the most useful programs to use. There are a lot. The bottom line, however, is ease of use, as some programs are more complicated than they’re worth. Most programs, through varying degrees of real-time, remote and distance access, allow parents to monitor key strokes, all chats, email activity, instant messaging, and Facebook or social media activity. Some take hundreds of snapshots every hour to monitor both online and offline activity. It’s all very Big-Brother.
Clearly, the programs have come a long way since I bought my last computer over 5 years ago, and software manufacturers have figured out what prominence these programs play in parents’ purchasing decisions. The value of the market for online security for children surpassed $1 billion in 2013 according to a report published by the technology market research company ABI Research, and the market is expected to double by 2018 due, in part, to the proliferation of new internet platforms like tablets and smartphones.
These monitoring programs only address half the problem, however. Educating children and teens on the responsible use of computers, smartphones, tablets and the like is paramount. Luckily, useful and insightful tips on internet and cell phone safety for kids are helpfully listed for clueless parents like me by the DOJ, here: Project Safe Childhood.
All this, and I still haven’t gotten the parental controls manual read yet…