Of two million publicly viewable Bebo pages, more than one in three pages belong to children aged between 13 and 17, new research has found. According to one expert, this means that a person can view a child’s Bebo website with “no accountability and virtually zero traceability”.
The research was conducted by two PhD scholars from the National University of Ireland Maynooth who have launched their own social networking site.
Des Traynor is a lecturer and PhD scholar in the Department of Computer Science at Maynooth and is an expert in computer science education. Andrew Page is a researcher and PhD scholar in the Department of Computer Science and is an expert in distributed computing.
They warn that parents must get to grips with new technologies such as social networks and the use of private profiles in order to protect children from cyber-stalkers.
In the past year the pair have launched their own social networking site called Bigulo.com, which claims to have the same demographics as Bebo.com and performs over 10,000 searches a day for users from Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US.
Traynor and Page’s Bigulo.com can be used to search networks such as Bebo to find people based on name/gender/location and currently holds more than two million entries. In the interests of safety, Bigulo does not permit searching for anyone under the age of 18.
According to a survey performed by Traynor and Page, of two million viewable Bebo pages, more than one in three pages belong to children aged between 13 and 17.
“This means, in effect, that a person can view a child’s Bebo website with no accountability and virtually zero traceability whatsoever; this has to worry parents,” said Traynor.
He recommends that a few simple steps can greatly increase a child’s safety using Bebo, primarily asking your child to make sure that their profile is kept private.
“Having a private profile means that only their friends can look at their page and make contact with them. This will make it extremely difficult for any so called cyber-stalkers to initiate contact with them in the first place.”
To make a Bebo profile private you simply deselect ‘Public’ in Bebo Homepage settings.
“Secondly, warn your children about the dangers of adding ‘friends’ they don’t know or haven’t met in real life,” added Traynor.
He said that a potential attacker could create a profile pretending to be a 15-year old girl and could then deceive your child into forming an online friendship. “The golden rule here is: if you don’t know, say no.”
Finally, the most difficult step of all is to convince your child to tell you their password or at the very least let you view their page from time to time.
“Children and teenagers are usually protective of secrecy and don’t want their parents to know what is happening in their life, but if you can get them to show you their page even once a month you’ll be able to check that nothing inappropriate is happening on their page”.
Traynor is quick to point out that despite the bad reputation it has gained recently, Bebo is not to blame for the upsurge in internet-related attacks
“Services such as Bebo have been around for years; Bebo is just the most popular in Ireland at the moment. The only solution to the problems posed by online interactions is to educate children properly on how best to protect themselves online.”
The survey also provided some interesting statistics about the popularity of Bebo usage. Bebo is most popular with the school and college market, with 95pc of the pages sampled falling into that age range. Also, Bebo has slightly more females than males, a mix of 56:44 in favour of females.
By John Kennedy