Page last updated at 12:52 GMT, Friday, 4 April 2008 13:52 UK

Internet safety plans 'pointless'

The UK Government has proposed new measures to prevent paedophiles grooming children over the internet.

The e-mail addresses of registered child sex offenders would be sent to social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, which could then bar them.

Phil Worms, director of the Glasgow-based internet safety and security company Netintelligence, gives his views on the idea.

Phil Worms
Phil Worms says parents need to be educated on safe internet use

At last some decisive action is being taken to protect children online.

It has been announced that sex offenders will have to give their e-mail addresses to police so they can be barred from social networking sites like Bebo and Facebook.

This is great news - or at least it would be, if it was in any way enforceable.

Online predators learn to cover their tracks and get around security measures, so does the home secretary really think it is as simple as asking for their e-mail addresses?

Anyone, anywhere, can set up an e-mail address, so even if paedophiles give a genuine address to police, there's still nothing to stop them setting up five new accounts with which to log on to Bebo and carry on regardless.

Jacqui Smith has admitted these measures could never be 'completely foolproof,' but frankly they are barely even worth bringing into force.

Voluntary scheme

What we need instead are more resources to protect children in the first place.

It is fine to make attempts to block access to certain sites for certain users, but to introduce it almost as some kind of voluntary scheme is pointless.

Last week a report by TV psychologist and parenting expert Dr Tanya Byron recommended that parents as well as children are educated on safe internet use, and that security software is more widely used.

Another recommendation was that computers are kept in a family room, as opposed to in a child's bedroom where parents can less easily see what content is being accessed.

These points have been overlooked until now and it is in these areas where we now need action, instead of empty measures which will achieve very little.

Phil Worms' tips for internet safety

  • Stay public: Don't allow children to have a PC in their bedroom
  • Know their friends: Every so often ask your child to name the individuals on their instant messaging and social networking 'friends' lists - if they can't then you need to investigate further
  • Do your homework: Familiarise yourself with terminology and the basic language used by youngsters on popular websites
  • Communicate: Speak to your children about the potential dangers on the internet, and write down basic ground rules for use - get your kids to suggest a few of their own
  • Consider sharing an e-mail account with your child so you know what kind of e-mails they are receiving
  • Be cautious of e-mails: Teach your children not to open attachments from unknown sources as they can contain viruses or pornography
  • Watch the clock: Limit the amount of time your child spends online, and encourage them to take part in other social activities away from the computer
  • Be wary if your child becomes secretive about their internet use

  • Make sure children always use nicknames on social networking sites, and ensure they never, ever give out personal information over the internet.

Q&A: Children and safer net use
02 Apr 08 |  Technology

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