John Harmer, author of “A War We Must Win,” says it’s not a matter of if but when.
“There isn’t a 12-year-old girl or an 11-year-old boy within 40 miles of the sound of my voice that hasn’t already seen a pornographic image online or won’t see one in the next six months,” the 30-year veteran of battles against the pornography industry told a Taylorsville gathering in May.
National statistics bear him out. According to a Federally-funded study, one in four kids age 10-17 has seen online pornographic images that they defined as objectionable. Many more actively seek out pornography. How many more? It’s hard to know, but Business 2.0, a publication devoted to Internet business issues, reports that in September, kids ages 10-17 spent 65 percent more time at porn sites than game sites.
A Federal study called “Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation’s Youth,” by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, also found that 20 percent of kids age 10-17 have been sexually solicited via the Internet in the prior year.
“Your first reaction may be to scream,” says Rick Larsen, president of Operation Kids, Inc.-a Bluffdale-based ‘social benefits company.’ “Your second reaction may be to send the computer to the dump.”
“The cyberpornographers know what they’re doing,” says Stewart Park, executive vice president at Operation Kids, Inc. Cyberporn is projected to be a $3 billion business by 2003. “They’re betting that if they can pique someone’s interest then he or she is likely to drill deeper into the site or come back again and again.”
The Web is certainly awash in pornography, Larsen says. “Oftentimes, all you have to do is misspell a Web site name or use the wrong extension and porn will flood your computer screen, often so quickly that you can’t close the windows as fast as they appear.”
Still, by most reliable estimates, porn sites and pages represent only one-fifth of the total Internet.
“Parents need to know that there’s more good than bad,” Larsen said. “And by being a smart consumer and a good parent you can stem the tide of smut and filth that can come into your home.”
Here’s what experts say you should look for in Internet filtering products:
• It should be effortless to install and easy to use.
A product that you eventually uninstall because you can’t understand it or because it doesn’t load easily doesn’t provide your family any protection.
• Look for a product that takes a systematic approach to the problem.
Objectionable web sites should be blocked back at the server before they ever reach your desktop. If new sites appear overnight, as they often do, the filter should also be able to block sites at the desktop level as well. There should also be a feedback loop so that users can report bad sites.
• You should be able to “tune” the product.
The product should have the capability to be customized to your needs and uses.
“The classic example is ‘breast cancer,’” says Larsen. “If the kids are doing school research on breast cancer and get blocked on the word ‘breast,’ there ought to be an easy override function that allows them to continue.”
By the same token, you ought to be able to tighten the filtering at your discretion.
• Activity logs should be convenient and helpful.
Most filtering utilities offer activity logs that detail where the computer’s browser has been pointed over some period of time.
“These logs are a great resource for parents,” Park says. “But only if you know how to use them and they’re easy for you to find and use.”
• It should be smarter than your kids.
“What I hear all the time from parents is that their kids can ‘hack’ filtering software,” Larsen says. “But there are a small handful of products that can’t be defeated short of reformatting the hard-drive. If your kids go to that extreme, then you definitely have a conversation starter.”
• It should offer features like e-mail alerts and monthly statements.
Some of the filters will e-mail you at the office or elsewhere if someone at home tries to access an objectionable site. One product, called ContentWatch, comes with a monthly statement that summarizes all of your computer use over the last month. “What I really like about ContentWatch,” Park says, “is that the statement becomes a parenting tool — a hands-on way to see how the family actually uses the computer.”
And so even if your family doesn’t have kids going to bad sites, it will still tell you how much time they spend in ICQ or playing computer games.
“I imagine parents everywhere reading their statements and sending their kids outside to get their vitamin D from the sunshine,” says Larsen.
It’s a community problem that requires a community solution.
“Statistics show that 70 percent of kids who say they saw something objectionable on the Web were either at home or at the home of friend at the time it happened,” says Park.
So your kids aren’t really safe even if you don’t have a computer at home, or if you’re already using an Internet filtering utility.
“Online pornography is a community problem. And while individual filters in individual homes can go a long way toward solving the problem, online porn will remain with us until there’s a community solution,” Larsen says.