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OSTWG Discusses Parental Controls for Child Safety

Emerson once said that we should do the thing we fear, and then death of fear is certain. Similarly, parents that fear their child’s use of technology can use technology themselves to monitor, filter and block their children’s Internet use.


I’m a member of the NTIA Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG). Our third meeting was on parental controls, child protection technologies and content rating methods. Adam Thierer organized a wealth of speakers to discuss tools available from ISPs, tools existing in operating systems, browsers, and search, and settings that exist in some social networking websites.


Here are the highlights:


  • Safety experts praised AOL’s parental tools that don’t report to parents every site that a child visits. Child abuse, contraception, and other sites are the kinds that many people feel children have legitimate privacy (and in abusive situations even safety concerns for their lives) surrounding the sites they visit.
  • A representative from the Department of Education asked about “best practices” — a good idea in concept but given the diversity of online sites and services easier said then done.
  • It is common to categorize children into age groups for parental controls but there’s data lacking about how children understand advertising and what is the harm, if any.
  • Age groups: 7 and below–white list only. 7-12–no white list only but lots of restrictions. 13-17–very permissive, lots of sites accessible. 17+–only porn images blocked.
  • Google will soon be launching a national media digital literacy citizenship campaign.
  • FTC will release its virtual worlds report on Dec 10. There is an OECD conference on e-commerce on Dec 8-10.
  • “Report abuse” icons on websites are often themselves abused and result in false positives and false reporting. Uniform buttons won’t work.
  • The FCC wants to know why the V-Chip uptake has not been greater and has been ineffective (can comment on the FCC’s NOI).
  • Carrie James, a Harvard researcher, has a report that shows that a higher percentage of kids that play online video games are more ethical than their peers that do not (due to the community that’s created playing games).


Next time we’ll be discussing data retention issues and what this means for child safety.


-Braden Cox