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Computer Porn-Busters

Kids are naturally curious, and the Internet is a great source of information. But if you're a parent, you want to make sure the information your child gets from the Web isn't X-rated. How easy is it for your kids to see porn online, and what can you do about it? CBS This Morning asked John Quain, a technology reporter and contributing editor to PC Magazine.


"The Internet is a wonderful place for kids to explore the world around them, to help them do homework, to make friends and have fun," says Quain. But he adds, "I'm afraid it's pretty easy to be led astray, and there are people out there just waiting to take advantage of any typo or mistake your kid might make."

A notorious example of a Web site that takes advantage of a common typing error involves the White House. The address www.whitehouse.gov gets you to the official site, with a special section just for kids. But www.whitehouse.com is a porn site and www.whitehouse.org is sponsored by bondage.com.

Even a simple typo can lead a user astray. The site "www.shareware.com" is popular with pre-teens. But leave out one letter when typing the address, and you get to a site that is strictly adults-only.

You may think a user needs a credit card to get far into X-rated content on the Web. But that isn't true, Quain says. "Unfortunately, there is plenty of free pornography out there. One place many people don't know about is through your email."

He explains, "going to a group called 'newsgroups' and then typing in some suggestive words gives your kid a whole list of photos which start with Playboy-like poses and get worse."

Don't pull the plug on the computer, though. There's plenty a parent can do to encourage safe surfing.

The latest entry is a new online service called JuniorNet.com, which just launched Tuesday. It's designed to keep kids ages 3 to 12 surfing the Internet safely.

Most sites like America Online and search engines like Yahoo or Lycos screen out inappropriate sites. But, Quain says, there is still need for caution: "They all have options that you can select that will screen out material for kids. But I put the word 'sex' in one of these search engines, and got hundreds of adult sites," he says.

There are special search indexes for kids like Yahooligan, a guide from Yahoo, and Safe Kids. They're great for parents who know nothing about the Internet and its dangers. They explain what those dangers are and offer good advice on how to avoid them.

There also are software filters that parents can install that will block out inappropriate materials. Quain cites NetNanny, CyberSitter and CyperPatrol as good examples. These programs steer children to more approriate sites, or tell them they've made an error so they don't know they were blocked. One option these programs offer is to simply monitor sites the child is viewing without interfering.

Quain cautions that the programs can be time consuming to install because they can be customized to limit where a child can go, how long they can stay on line and even how long they can play games.

But no program is foolproof, especially when many kids know more about the Internet than their parents.

Quain offers these additional tips for parents:

  • Make searching the Internet a family activity. Be with your child as he does his research or at least keep the computer in a common room like the kitchen or living room so you can keep an eye out.
  • Establish hours when the child can use the Internet.
  • Talk to your kids about the dangers out there and stress that they must never give out any personal information online.



For more information:
ZD Net's Safeguarding the Web
JuniorNet.com

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