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Social Media: MySpace, Facebook, Orkut
By early 2010, more than 11,000 profiles associated with sexual predators had been pulled off Facebook and Myspace -- and that was just in New York. Orkut is an open social network -- that means you can easily see who's in the friends' list of your children and what kind of notes they are they exchanging with each.
Ryan Moreau, safety expert with the Internet safety resource site KiwiCommons, says Facebook is overwhelmingly the most popular site with kids, even those under the Facebook-mandated age of 13 (many lie about their age to register, he says). Which means, you likely won't be able to keep your kid off it. Instead, post with them and manage their profile for them so that their identity is protected. Moreau points to applications such as Farmville, which allows the game access to all the information on a profile.
"How many children have installed Farmville not realizing that all that info on their Facebook page is now the property of a marketing company that is using them for research?" he asks.
Chat Sites: Chatroulette, Habbo and Smallworlds
A site that pairs random strangers for webcam-based conversations, Chatroulette exposes both the best and worst of human instincts. Visitors to the website begin an online interaction with another visitor selected at random. At any point, either user may leave the current chat by initiating another random connection. The idea, presumably, is that you'll start a conversation with someone you'd otherwise never have the opportunity to meet. Here the Internet comes close to achieving its potential as a connector and social equalizer. Here, also, are a lot of bored sexual perverts.
"Unmoderated chat rooms are the places where cyberbullying occurs or where there's horrible sexual innuendo and inappropriate comments made from kid to kid," Boro says. "Pedophiles lurk to talk to kids. And you have the risk of kids disclosing personal information."
Game sites: Miniclip, AddictingGames
Miniclip and AddictingGames host a dizzying number of games. Some are fine for kids. Many aren't, says Boro. At Kidzui, his team screens such sites and allows kids access only to games that have passed screening for violence and sexual content.
Some of these game sites require credit card information, which parents should also be wary of. Even a site as popular as Webkinz can be problematic if kids are taking a parent's credit card without their knowledge.
Start a Discussion
Kids as young as 3 are already starting to use the Internet, says Boro, so it's never too early to explain that not everything on the computer is meant for kids. Explain to your children that you'll decide together which sites are appropriate, and which aren't. Most importantly, try to keep lines of communication regarding the Internet open, says Moreau.
"What we find is 70 percent of kids won't talk to an adult if they encounter a problem on the Internet because they're afraid parents will take privilege away," he says. "Instead, we suggest parents say. 'If you find something bad, I'll be a part of helping you deal with it.'"
What sites do you have blocked at home? Chime in below.