Yesterday was, so am I told, Safer Internet Day 2008. A global initiative driven by the likes of the Virtual Global Taskforce (a network of law enforcement agencies around the planet that work to protect kids online and make the Internet a safer place) and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre here in the UK for example. The notion of getting the message across to a wider audience and ensuring kids are safe online is to be applauded, but the concept of a Safer Internet Day is all wrong in my opinion. What is needed is for the safety message to be pummeled home every day or every week of every year until it is finally understood.
I mean, apparently Kaspersky gave away 1000 one year license to its Internet Security suite yesterday to the first 1000 people to email and ask for a copy. Great, but where does that leave everyone else and was there any filtering to ensure those licenses went to families so as to protect kids rather than some tight fisted guy living on his own? Kaspersky, like most security vendors, do offer advice about staying safe online at their website and have even published a free 'Safe Online Guide' for download which is commendable. David Emm, the author the guide, asks "Parents and teachers take care to educate children not to accept sweets from strangers. But do children know that the same caution applies when they surf the Internet?" The obvious answer being, not if their parents do not educate them about that as well. Which is where stay safe initiatives come in, aimed at both parents and teachers in order to educate them so they can educate the kids. I am not convinced that, as David Emm insists, it is as easy a problem to solve as "Some simple preventative steps, combined with leading Internet security software, will assure a worry-free online experience."
Let's look at how Safer Internet Day impacted upon my family. I have two young children, both of whom use the Internet but only under the supervision of my wife or myself. None of us even knew it was Safer Internet Day until Kaspersky issued a press release, which arrived in my mailbox at 3pm on the day itself. So already it had become a Safer Internet Afternoon rather than the day long experience. Just how much safer was it? Let's take a look at my kids email, which is well already well protected by spam filters that do a good job of stripping out most offensive or dangerous material: the spam filter had trapped 76 and 24 emails for each child, of which roughly half were pornographic and a quarter related to some kind of phishing or malware exploit. Safer Internet Afternoon had no impact upon the senders of these mails.
Actually, truth be told, yesterday was a much safer Internet day than usual in my household because for various reasons the children did not connect at all. It being half term school holidays here in the UK they were out with their friends enjoying the fresh winter air. I cannot say that the Safer Internet Day initiative made any difference, nor is it likely to, unless the whole problem of child safety online is moved into the classroom and taught as part of the curriculum. When Internet safety becomes as ingrained into the education of our children as road safety then maybe we stand a chance of making things better.