Businesses Should Provide Online Safety Education, Report Says

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Companies that do an extensive amount of business online should provide information and other resources to parents and children about online safety before, during, and after children use their Web sites, says a report released todayRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The report from the Washington-based PointSmart.ClickSafe, an initiative of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association that focuses on educating parents about Internet safety, also calls for the creation of a federal agency to work to improve such safety, along with increased funding for online-safety curricula, research, and professional development. National goals for ensuring online safety for students and families, as well as digital literacy standards for schools, should also be developed, the report states.

A team of media companies, nonprofit organizations, educators, and public-health officials wrote the report with the aim of recommending steps for business and government to take to help keep children safe online.

“The real goal of the task force was to look at what industry can do across all sectors to move the needle to create a better online environment for youth,” said Marsali S. Hancock, a member of the task force and the president of iKeepSafe, an Arlington, Va.-based coalition of public-health officials and policymakers working to ensure children’s Internet safety. “By mixing the communities up, it created a much better framework for starting the conversation.”

Schools are in a unique position to teach students about the ethical use of the Internet, but improvement is needed in developing lessons related to online safety and incorporating them into existing curricula. More time is also needed to train teachers in how to approach the material, the report states.

The report recognizes that using filters to block inappropriate content in schools can restrict access to “harmless and valid educational materials,” and educators on the task force acknowledged that students often know how to get around them. Filters do play an important role in keeping students from accessing important information, according to the panel, but they are “an imperfect tool and schools sometimes over-rely on it to the detriment of teaching youth about safety and responsible behavior online.”

Before children or parents access information on company Web sites, those companies first should provide basic information and tips about online safety, define acceptable online behaviors in their profile-creation or registration process, and determine better ways to verify the ages and identities of people using their sites, the report recommends.

While a child is online, his or her parents should be able to customize safety settings and access information about filtering, safety, and security options, says the report.

If a problem does occur, it says, companies should have a detailed procedure in place to handle security issues, including a way to report problems, an explanation of what should be reported, and instructions on how to remove unwanted content from an online page or profile, or to cancel an account.

‘Safe and Responsible’

“Kids today are increasingly tech-savvy. It is vital that we help them develop digital-media literacy skills and guide them how to use technology in a safe and responsible way,” Stephen Balkam, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based Family Online Safety Institute, said in a statement. “We are working with various stakeholders to build a culture of responsibility online, and this report will add impetus for a cohesive and collaborative approach to not only keep kids safe, but also to encourage personal resiliency and responsibility for their online actions.”

The task force that crafted the report and recommendations grew from an Internet-safety summit held in Washington last year by PointSmart.ClickSafe.

“It was a great way to start a task force because we already had the framework,” Ms. Hancock said.

The report, she said, aimed to answer a key question: “What can we actually do that doesn’t require changing laws” to keep children safe online?

Vol. 28, Issue 36

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