Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A common sense approach to Internet safety

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Over the years, we've built tools and offered resources to help kids and families stay safe online. Our SafeSearch feature, for example, helps filter explicit content from search results.

We've also been involved in a variety of local initiatives to educate families about how to stay safe while surfing the web. Here are a few highlights:
  • Google India initiated "Be NetSmart," an Internet safety campaign created in cooperation with local law enforcement authorities that aims to educate students, parents, and teachers across the country about the great value the Internet can bring to their lives, while also teaching best practices for safe surfing.
  • And Google Germany worked with the national government, industry representatives, and a number of local organizations recently to launch a search engine for children.
As part of these ongoing efforts to provide online safety resources for parents and kids, we've created Tips for Online Safety, a site designed to help families find quick links to safety tools like SafeSearch, as well as new resources, like a video offering online safety pointers that we've developed in partnership with Common Sense Media. In the video, Anne Zehren, president of Common Sense, offers easy-to-implement tips, like how to set privacy and sharing controls on social networking sites and the importance of having reasonable rules for Internet use at home with appropriate levels of supervision.

Users can also download our new Online Family Safety Guide (PDF), which includes useful Internet Safety pointers for parents, or check out a quick tutorial on SafeSearch created by one of our partner organizations, GetNetWise.

We all have roles to play in keeping kids safe online. Parents need to be involved with their kids' online lives and teach them how to make smart decisions. And Internet companies like Google need to continue to empower parents and kids with tools and resources that help put them in control of their online experiences and make web surfing safer.


Dominic Jones said...

With the Internet so central to our children's lives, it is vital that companies like Google do everything possible to support online safety.

However, Google has more work to do.

Through its anonymous Gmail service, Google is making it easier for bad people to abuse and attack children, and it is making it harder for families to protect their kids and investigate possible safety breaches.

Unlike other free email providers -- such as Microsoft and Yahoo! -- Google's Gmail does not include the originating IP address of the sender in the email code. This flaw effectively makes Gmail an anonymous email system that can easily be used for evil purposes.

Anyone can use Gmail to target a child and there is no way for a parent, a school or a law enforcement officer to find out who the sender might be without the laborious process of getting a court order to compel Google to hand over the information. The extra time required to find out the originating IP address of a sender prolongs the agony of victims and increases the stress on traumatized families.

With Yahoo or Microsoft's products, finding out the IP address of the person who sent an email takes less than a minute, and an IP whois trace can be done in a few seconds. Often, this information will do nothing more than put a victimized family's minds at ease. For example, knowing that a perpetrator is located in another city or country can make a world of difference to a victim who does not know who is targeting them.

Admittedly, originating IP addresses don't always identify senders and there are ways to spoof them. But having access to the originating IP address is one important tool parents and schools increasingly need to investigate cyberbullying and other online assaults on children.

I only know about this issue because of having recently investigated a case of a young girl (my daughter) being bullied online by another child who just happened to use Gmail (along with several other email services.) In investigating the case, I discovered that Gmail is entirely anonymous. This made it harder to track down the instigator and prolonged the victim's agony of not knowing who was targeting her.

Without any help from Google, I was eventually able to capture the instigator's IP address and identify the perpetrator. But I realized that someone who is less tech savvy than me would still be trying to get a court order to make Google hand over information that is not privileged in the first case.

I'm not saying Google has deliberately created this situation, but the lack of response I've received from the company to this issue certainly raises serious questions about its willingness to do the right thing.

Please, please, please fix this before more kids get hurt.

April said...

I too, would like a safe email address for my kids. My daughter is JUST starting to email her friends (she's ten) and my son gets email from Grandma. My son (age 5) had 600 spams, mostly about sex, in his spam box. As he doesn't use his email with anyone publicly (except Grandma, and we're pretty sure Grandma didn't sell him out), then how they got it is shocking. Even more so, what they are sending. I don't want him or my daughter to see any lines about what they are selling, and WHY.
I wish there was a safe way for them to ONLY receive mail from their contact list, and everything else go to trash, before it even made it to their page.