Online chat safetyBy Jonathan Stromberg
Just recently, the issue of online chat safety has come to light on the BBC website.
On this page, there is a discussion about the safety issues concerning community websites such as Bebo and MySpace.
Chatting with friends online - via services like MySpace and Bebo - is beginning to take over from watching TV as the main hobby of many young people. Much of the chat is happening in what are called 'community websites'. Unlike chat rooms, they are not open to everyone: each person has to be invited to join in.
The question is: exactly how safe are closed community websites? In the last few years, in response to their rapidly gaining popularity, there have been many governmental and non-governmental groups set up to deal with this issue.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (Ceop) was set up to increase the safety of children when on line. From their statistics it is known that one in 12 children met up with someone encountered first online.
Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Ceop Center said that "Children need to understand the Internet has opportunities, but with that come negatives. Do not share information online that you would not share offline, and certainly do not meet someone off-line that you met online."
Sites such as MySpace and Bebo let users leave details about their lives online and encourage people to network with other users.
Rachel O'Connell, who leads the British Home Office taskforce on Internet safety, is anxious about the fact that such pages are so readily available. Young people often display photos of themselves on such chat sites, which according to Rachel O'Connell's experience assists stalkers and pedophiles.
In the 13 months since it launched, Bebo has racked up more than 22 million members. It is aimed at those aged 13-30 but has proved particularly popular with school and college students.
Bebo is a social networking chat site that lets members share pictures and messages, and chat with friends that are also on the service. As such, it stands alongside sites such as MySpace, Friendster and many others.
Bebo's users can also talk to each over a webcam and one newspaper in the UK printed extracts of a conversation in which a young person was encouraged to strip in front of the camera by an anonymous user.
The popularity of Bebo has come with a price. Some schools and colleges consider it a safety issue, and have stopped pupils from using the site and block access to it during the school day.
One school that has banned Bebo is Kent College, an independent girls school near Tunbridge Wells in England.
Debbie Cowley, technology teacher at the college, is concerned about what pupils were sharing via the site. Some were posting personal details, pictures and even making disparaging comments about the school and its staff.
Ms Cowley said she was not happy with the level of safety and security on Bebo, and wanted more warnings about the potential dangers of sharing too much information.
In response to these concerns, Mr Birch of Bebo said: "As I understand it, some schools have blocked us and they block many sites as a matter of course if they are not directly related to school work."
The dangers have been further highlighted by the head teacher of a Kent girl's school who wrote to parents after realizing that 700 of her students had signed up to a networking site.
She considered that some of the images that had been uploaded by the pupils were indecent and could be a lure for pedophiles.
Linda Wybar, head teacher of Tunbridge Wells girls' grammar, also banned the site from her school due to the safety issue of this online chat program.
Norfolk County Council said it had told county heads that the bebo.com site was "inappropriate" and many schools had already blocked computer access to it.
The council sent an e-mail to all school heads in Norfolk, explaining that site was being used for "bullying, drugs references and pornography". It also advised schools to warn parents about their children using the site as it posed a number of possible dangers.
There are some interesting points are made concerning online chat safety on the comments page of the BBC website.
A couple of them are as follows:
The trend (for many users) in MYSPACE is this: People first join it, because "everyone" is on it, it is a chance to once again show your face to hundreds of people online. Tell the world about your favorite music, video, daily blogging, interest etc. However there is no end to this. Some people get stuck in the phase of trying to prove that they "know" people by having 200 friends on their list. However after few months for some users, maybe few years for others, they delete their accounts, realizing that a public display of photos, location, emails, IM's are potential disasters, unsafe and unnecessary. There are people who while browsing such pages, save pictures of anonymous girls from MySpace, and publish it on porn websites using simple editing techniques. MySpace, friendster, facebook are similar social networking tools, (used it for few months) but too bad the Internet is unregulated and full of "evil" people out there to misuse technology.
Travis, San Francisco, USA
Some children go onto the Internet and give out personal details and then hide this from their parents, and I know this because some of my friends do this.
Children, like myself need to be monitored however much we claim to be completely aware of the dangers of the Internet and places like 'My Space'.
Online chat safety is clearly an issue that has reached the mainstream. The sheer popularity of sites such as Bebo and MySpace means that parents across the board have stared to take notice about the safety issues relating to such sites.
At www.softforyou.com, you will find a variety of highly rated software which has been designed to help you protect your children from the dangers of on line chat sites, and the Internet as a whole.
SoftForYou's principal programs iProtectYou and CyberSieve can be used to block your child from sending any personal information over the Internet through a chat site; from your credit card numbers to your address.
They offer an advanced monitoring system that enables you to check on the activity of your child at a later time that is convenient to you.
You can limit the times that your child can use the Internet (and the computer as a whole,) and the web sites that he or she has access to.
You can restrict access to, or block your child from entering chat rooms and community websites such as Bebo and MySpace.
These are just a few benefits that these programs can bring to you and your family. For more information please refer to the site at www.SoftForYou.com.
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