Google Continues Its Efforts In Child Safety

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Recently, a conference of experts convened in New York to ask the question “Does The Internet Change Everything?” in regards to how information is presented to children in the ever-evolving digital age. Just how dangerous an environment is the Internet, and what are practical solutions to make it safer for children?

First let me say, I don’t have any children. As a 28 year-old single male, the idea of keeping the Internet safe for children isn’t exactly the first thought that pops into my mind whenever I sit down to do my daily web surfing.

When I’m forced to consider the prospect, however, I find that if I did have children, I probably wouldn’t want them using the Internet at all.

We’ve become numb to the barrage of pornographic spam and stories of child predators anymore; these aspects of the Internet have been accepted as “part of the territory” when it comes to cyberspace.

As adults, most of us have the capacity to shut out the explicit imagery, ignore the random MySpace messages from someone seeking to proposition us for an adult encounter, and weed our way through the spam in order to get where we are going.

Children, however, have the natural tendency to accept and embrace what they see. They believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To a child, these imaginary characters are as real as the faces of their parents, and perhaps even more so, because let’s face it; in our two-income household society, a child is likely to spend more time with Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael than with Mom and Dad.

Children inherently trust what they see, and that makes the Internet a potentially dangerous place for them.

Google, however, is flexing its virtual muscles in order to protect children from objectionable content. Elliot Schrage, VP, Global Communications and Public Affairs for the company, outlines what he believes are four specific scenarios that occur when children search for content on the Internet, and the appropriate response for each:

· When a child isn’t actively seeking objectionable content online, and doesn’t encounter any, no action is needed.

· When a child isn’t seeking objectionable content, but comes across it inadvertently, ISPs and other online services, like Google, and child safety organizations can provide tools and resources to help families effectively monitor their child’s online interactions.

· When a child is actively seeking out objectionable content online and finds it, parents are primarily responsible for devising a solution.

· When a child isn’t seeking out objectionable content, but someone deliberately forces such content on them, this amounts to exploitation — and requires government involvement and cooperation by ISPs and other online services.

According to Google, the first and third scenarios are out of the realm of responsibility for online providers, and rightly so in my opinion. The children who are not actively seeking explicit content, and who aren’t exposed to it either, are obviously doing just fine by themselves.

By the same token, parents cannot hold online providers responsible for kids that are hell-bent on locating objectionable content. At some point, parenting has to kick in.

But what about the things that online providers and other entities can do to protect children from being exposed to this type of content?

Schrage continues:

In connection with the second scenario, we have invested in developing family safety technology and tools, including SafeSearch, a filter that uses advanced technology to block pornographic and explicit content from Google search results. We’ve also partnered with child safety organizations to educate families about ways to use the Internet and other types of media safely.

These efforts include joining forces with CommonSense Media to provide their movie reviews in Google search results to assist parents in identifying healthy content. We also work with organizations like i-Safe and iKeepSafe to provide online public service announcements that promote access to resources about Internet safety.

When the fourth scenario occurs, we work closely with law enforcement officials worldwide to identify, investigate and prosecute child pornography and exploitation. We remove child pornography immediately when we become aware of its presence on our search engine or content services, and report all instances of child pornography to law enforcement through the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC.

We also respond to hundreds of child safety-related law enforcement requests each year, in addition to requests to preserve data related to these cases. Lastly, we donate hardware and software to improve NCMEC’s ability to manage incoming reports of child exploitation and assist NCMEC in promoting its CyberTipline, a resource for reporting cases of online child sexual exploitation.

These are all excellent methods employed by Google in order to keep things safer on their end. The truth, unfortunately, is that there simply isn’t a 100% guarantee that a child will not come across objectionable content when surfing the web.

So while companies like Google strive to make their online experience as child-friendly as possible, the burden of responsibility falls squarely back on the shoulders of the parents when allowing their children to venture online.

There’s no better solution to this problem than the intentional involvement of a parent.

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Google Continues Its Efforts In Child Safety
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