Reports of Internet crimes against society’s most vulnerable have soared during the Coronavirus pandemic. UNICEF and other international child safety organisations have warned that children are at an increased risk of online harm as schools are closed and social contact restricted.
“When children were sent home from school so they could learn remotely, the uncomfortable truth is online predators were waiting for them,” says André van der Walt, chairperson of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of South Africa.
Mid-way through 2021, COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns remain a feature of life in much of the world and parents everywhere are searching for more effective ways to better protect their children.
“The first steps on any child online safety journey should involve activating passwords and setting up built-in parental control features aimed at preventing minor access to inappropriate Internet and social media content,” advises Mr van der Walt.
Parent child conversations, too, are necessary. From there, content management software that has improved in leaps and bounds since the big red hand of the 1990s starts looking particularly appealing.
ISPA has, in the interests of a safer South African web, listed several Internet safety software considerations below. However, it is important to remember that ISPA’s members are, in fact, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who are ordinarily responsible for providing end consumers with Internet access services and a limited range of value-added services. ISPs are not software developers and they do not police the Internet.
Internet safety software can help keep children safe from many online threats from cyberbullying to grooming. ISPA advises parents and guardians to consider investigating online safety software with the following attributes:
- Make sure any software package you purchase or download free offers users multi-factor authentication so multiple pieces of information are required to verify parental identity. This means access settings can’t easily be changed by minors.
- When it comes to functionality, it’s easy to be dazzled by the impressive array of features on offer from the big brands. Make sure your chosen software includes all or most of these: content filtering, app management, screen time controls, location tracking, geofencing and history monitoring.
- Most decent paid-for security software packages will include a fairly decent free version. Spend some time tinkering around with the free version before committing Rands and cents to software.
- With over-the-top messaging services like WhatsApp being so popular, your online safety software should ideally include configurable text monitoring that can raise alerts when messages contain particular keywords.
- Staying safe online means staying up to date. Check if your chosen security software provider disseminates useful information to customers about current security threats via a regular newsletter, Twitter or Facebook account and even via a Podcast.
- When it comes to mobile, decide if you want to make use of built-in features that allow parents to monitor their children’s online activities or dedicated third-party apps. Check how many devices are covered by any paid subscription you choose.
- Teach children good practice with respect to privacy, security of passwords and the updating of system software and firmware for Wi-Fi routers and IoT devices if needed. Remember too that it is very good Internet practice to action all security updates on operating system software as soon as possible.
- It’s also important to remember that age limits exist for a reason. If a website, app, or software has an age restriction of 13, for example, an 8 year old should not be given access.
Finally, ISPA maintains a list of valuable Internet safety resources here: https://ispa.org.za/safety/