EU reveals parental software can’t block Web 2.0 content

13 Jan 2011

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While 84pc of parental software succeeds in blocking access to certain websites, it is not very successful at filtering Web 2.0 sites or blogs, a study by the European Commission has found.

The Digital Agenda survey found that only a few products on the market are able to filter web content accessed via mobile phones or game consoles, at a time when one child out of four in Europe goes online in this way.

In parallel, an EUKidsOnline survey, also funded by the EU’s Safer Internet Programme, found that only a quarter of EU parents use parental control software to monitor, track or filter what their children can do online.

The study published today analysed 26 parental control tools for PCs, three for games consoles and two for mobile phones.

The study found that the existing software is good at filtering adult online content, but there is still at least a 20pc chance that sites with unsuitable material for children and especially those encouraging youngsters to self harm (sites promoting anorexia, suicide or self-mutilation) could pass through their filters.

At the same time, other sites that include content specifically for children are blocked. Only a few tools are able to filter Web 2.0 content, such as social-networking sites, forums and blogs, and block instant messaging or chat protocols or filter contact lists.

As far as parental controls for smartphones and game consoles are concerned, not all products on the market are able to filter web content, although 31pc of children in Europe access the internet via their mobile phones and 26pc go online via game consoles.

Twenty-nine per cent of Irish children access the internet using a mobile phone and 23pc using a handheld device.

English is the most common language for the parental control tools, while the choice of tools for other languages is limited.

Only a quarter of parents use parental control tools

The EUKidsOnline survey also published today shows that roughly a quarter of parents block or filter websites (28pc) and/or track the websites visited by the children (24pc).

However, there is a significant difference between member states, ranging from 54pc in the UK and 48pc in Ireland to 9pc in Romania.

In addition to the use of parental controls, 70pc of parents surveyed said they talk to their children about what they do on the internet. Some 58pc of parents claim they stay nearby their children when they use the internet.

More than half of parents also take positive steps, such as suggesting how to behave towards others online (56pc) and talking about things that might bother the child (52pc).

Under the Safer Internet Programme of the EU, the Commission will continue to fund a review of parental control software every six months until the end of 2012 and monitor progress. A database where parents can search for the parental control tool most suitable to their needs is available at www.yprt.eu/sip.

The Commission also supports empowerment of children and their parents through funding of the Safer Internet Centres, which will celebrate Safer Internet Day on Tuesday, 8 February 2011.

The event will involve local and national events throughout Europe and worldwide. The events will be for children, but also for parents and teachers, who want to learn how they can help keep children safe online.

EU Safer Internet Programme

The "benchmarking of parental control tools for the online protection of children" project has been funded by the EU’s Safer Internet Programme since 2006.

The tools included in this project were analysed with settings for two age groups: 10-year-olds and younger and 11+ year-olds in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish between September and October 2010.

The tools were tested according to four criteria:

·         Functionality: is the tool compatible with the operating systems (eg, Windows, Linux, Mac OS)? Can it filter web content according to keywords, topics, URLs? Can it block or monitor access to the internet, emails, chats, instant-messaging tools?

·         Security: can the tool be easily disabled or bypassed by technology-savvy youngsters?

·         Effectiveness: can the tool fully block websites with unsuitable material for children or can these sites still be accessed? Does it also block good content for children? Is it available in languages users are confident with? Can it properly filter blogs, forums and social-networking sites?

·         Usability: Can both beginner and advanced users install the tool on their computers? Is the installation process too complex? Is it easy for the parent and child to understand when a website was blocked?

The EUKidsOnline survey was conducted in 25 countries with more than 25,000 children and one of their parents between April and August 2010.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com