Australian Government Exposes Kids to Online Dangers

Feb 04, 2009

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Over the last couple weeks the Australian government has decided to end the NetAlert program, which was set-up 18 months ago to promote and distribute parental controls and Internet filters to every Australian family for free. That's right, the Australian government initially got it spot on by advocating responsible parenting and a holistic approach to Internet safety that included outreach, education and flexible empowerment tools.  

A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said there were only 26,000 copies of the software still being used as of November 2008. "Only about 2 per cent of households with dependent age children and an internet connection (were) using the filter," he said. This low number is a result of a poor marketing and awareness campaign, bad distribution planning, as well as the lack of known brand name parental controls being part of the program.

With the cancellation of the NetAlert program, the current political party has decided instead to introduce mandatory filtering at the ISP level. This has caused great controversy and outcries from down under that include censorship issues from Internet users, degradation of speeds that impact ISP customers, as well as forcing ISPs to become gatekeepers. This isn't sitting well with Telstra BigPond and the other service providers.

The most troubling aspect of the proposed ISP filtering mandate is the false sense of security that parents and educators will get from this. In today's evolving Web 2.0 world, the issues that effect and impact kids go beyond exposure to inappropriate adult or illegal material. Cyberbullying, harassment, sexual predators, phishing, phriending, illegal downloading, gambling and gaming addiction are just a few of the other challenges parents face when attempting to protect and monitor their child's Internet use. The NetAlert program tackled many of these complex issues by providing flexible and customizable desktop filtering clients which assist today's busy parents by filtering and blocking inappropriate content, as well as monitoring and reporting on inappropriate conduct and contacts.

Now, instead of promoting Internet safety and getting schools, parents, and businesses involved in what kids are doing online, the Australian government has instead gone down the path of the "federal firewall" by enacting heavy handed mandates that may stop some already illegal content from being accessed by it's citizens, but at what cost?