Comcast, Cox contribute to Internet safety report

Wed, 07/08/2009 - 8:50am
Brian Santo

Internet service providers may have to adopt new techniques, and perhaps even technologies, in accordance with new recommendations on how make the Internet safer for children.

Companies including Comcast, Cox Communications, Verizon, Google, Yahoo, AOL and Symantec joined with organizations such as Common Sense Media, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe), PTA, Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and the Children’s Partnership to develop a report titled “PointSmart.ClickSafe: Task Force Recommendations for Best Practices for Online Safety and Literacy” (download report here).

The group has recommendations for individual ISPs but said that the current company-by-company approach operating in conformance to a patchwork of local laws (if and when they exist) is too fragmented, and therefore a national policy is recommended.

The group’s best practice recommendations include:

  • During a child’s online activity, technology and information should be available that can define and control a child’s digital activities and help parents establish the structure that best meets their family needs.
  • When problems arise online, companies should have robust procedures, systems and resources to handle complaints, report necessary trouble spots and cooperate with appropriate enforcement agencies if applicable.
  • Before children go online, basic information and education about the digital landscape should be in place and available to all children, parents, educators and caregivers so they can understand risks and appropriate behavior while online, and what options they have for proper use of the service.

The report is short on specific details about implementation.

Adam Thierer, senior fellow at The Progress & Freedom Foundation, said the working group found that “there is no single ‘silver-bullet’ solution to child safety concerns. Instead, we need a holistic approach based on education, empowerment, and sensible industry self-regulation. The best practices outlined in this report will set a new benchmark for online operators going forward to ensure that they have policies in place to keep kids and parents educated and informed about how to stay safe online.”

The report notes that filtering mechanisms are of mixed effectiveness, that monitoring software can be effective but can also be hacked, and that age verification methods are of dubious value. The report appears most sanguine about agent technology, though such technology is not in wide use.

As for national policy, the group recommends “designation by the President or Congress of a lead federal agency that would work collaboratively and comprehensively with all major stakeholders in marshaling resources for the improvement of online safety and Internet literacy and coordinate the activities under diverse federal programs.”

Necole Merritt, vice president of corporate communications for Cox, said: “Internet and wireless safety awareness and education efforts are a central focus of Cox Communications’ corporate social responsibility efforts through our Take Charge! program established in 2004. We applaud the efforts of the PointSmart.ClickSafe task force for advancing the study of the critical issues of online safety and Internet literacy, and most importantly for clearly defining best practices, which can be applied across industries to ensure an even safer Internet in the future.”

The task force has been working for more than a year on the report.

More Broadband Direct 07/08/09:
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