Taking the Task Force to Task

Jan 15, 2009

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Yesterday, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force(ISTTF)publicly released its report of findings and recommendations for improving online child safety, in particular on social networking sites. I suggest that you head over and read the report yourself.

Kudos goes out to John Palfrey, Faculty Co-Director of The Berkman Center for Internet&Society at Harvard University and the members of the task force for attempting to tackle such a complex and important issue.

I had the opportunity to attend and present to the ISTTF in September 2008, and as I suspected then, the results of the task force do little to nothing to advance the issue of verification and identification of minors online.

The ISTFF concluded in its report, "Enhancing Child Safety&Online Technologies," that online bullying is the top threat to kids on the Internet and not all kids are at equal risk online. It's not the Internet itself, but the child's environment that's a real indicator of their risk, the report says: "Those who are most at risk often engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives. The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.

Another conclusion that is obvious to many of us in the parental controls and Internet filtering industry is that today’s parental empowerment technologies combined with involved and responsible parenting, communication and education is by far the best method for protecting children online today. We understand that parental control software is simply a tool to assist parents in the layered approach to protecting their kids.

The task force could have saved it's valuable time and resources if they had simply read Adam Thierer's book "Parental Controls and Online Child Protection. It is, bar none, the most comprehensive look at today’s technologies and best practices in protecting kids online. It also comes to the same conclusion as the task force.

We need to take the “three-legged stool approach to attacking the issue of online safety and behavior, the legs being education, legislation and technology. Education is the most important. It needs to begin in the home and then we must require our government to take action in school classrooms and build awareness through traditional media. We need solid legislation that is enforceable and is not designed as a “feel good solutions. Lastly, we need to continue to invest in technologies like Net Nanny that continue to focus and keep up with the ever-changing dangers to kids on the Web, be it inappropriate contacts, conduct or content.