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EDITIONS
 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 18:16 GMT
Net industry must fight paedophiles
Girls sitting at computer
Children need to learn about dangers online says government
The UK Government has laid out practical guidelines for internet service providers (ISPs) about dealing with the threat of paedophiles on the internet.

Alongside a 1m advertisement campaign to raise awareness of online dangers, the government has put forward a code of practice for ISPs and chatroom hosts.

It follows increasing concerns about paedophiles using the internet to make contact with children.

In the last few years, there have been at least 12 cases of children in the UK being physically attacked by men they met online.

Present danger

People need to understand that the internet is a wonderful thing, but like any big city there are dangers too

Nicholas Lansman, ISPA
"If just one child is raped by someone they met online it is one child too many," said John Carr, head of children's charity NCH and one of the members of the government taskforce which wrote the guidelines.

"It is a clear and present danger and we need to draw parents' and children's attention to it so that we can get on with using the internet for education and fun activities," he added.

Among the taskforce's recommendations are that ISPs should be careful about how they use and store the personal information of children.

ISPs should also ensure that adult content is not easily accessible to children and promote the use of child-friendly search engines.

Nicholas Lansman, secretary-general of the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA), welcomes the guidelines as a commonsense addition to online safety.

"People need to understand that the internet is a wonderful thing, but like any big city there are dangers too," he said.

Panic buttons

"ISPs can't force people not to give out personal details but they can make people aware of using commonsense as you would in a big city," he added.

Chatrooms, where children and adults can talk in real-time to other people logged on to the service, are an area of particular concern to the taskforce.

It recommends that chatrooms should have human moderators on hand to check the conversations taking place and also provide an easy way for children to report chat that they did not find appropriate.

Monitoring chat

It is always advisable to have human moderators on call

Wendy McAuliffe, Habbo Hotel
Mr Lansman thinks it is more important to educate and make parents, schools and service providers aware of their joint responsibilities online.

"It is not possible, technically or practically, to monitor every online conversation," he said.

Although some chatroom providers do use moderators, many including Yahoo, do not.

An investigation by technology news site ZDNet found that several chatrooms used by children on the Yahoo instant messaging service were populated by paedophiles 'grooming' children for inappropriate sexual conversations.

Following much publicity about the practice the government made online grooming a criminal offence.

The forthcoming government adverts will make clear that paedophiles can adopt an alternative identity online and will show a child's voice transforming into that of an adult.

Teenage chatroom Habbo Hotel takes the role of child safety very seriously and as well as advising visitors about stranger danger also has some practical advice.

"Chatroom hosts should try to protect the anonymity of young people using their services, by ensuring that personal information collected at registration is not made available to other users," Habbo's Child Safety Officer Wendy McAuliffe told BBC News Online.

Quick response

As well as displaying prominent warnings about the dangers of handing out personal details such as mobile phone numbers, chatrooms need emergency help buttons for children uncomfortable or unhappy with online conversations.

"It is always advisable to have human moderators on call, and an emergency help button linked to online help that children can use in potentially threatening situations," said Miss McAuliffe.

Habbo's own emergency call button is well-used with a call on average every minute.

"They are not all serious but all of them are picked up and responded to by volunteer moderators," said Miss McAuliffe.

See also:

06 Jan 03 | UK
06 Jan 03 | Technology
05 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
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