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RealTime IT News

Most Americans Say 'Net is a Danger to Kids

Nearly everyone thinks the Internet is a menace to kids.

In a survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Zone Labs, 94 percent of consumers agreed that the Internet presents a threat to children. Results of the survey of 2,322 men and women were released on Thursday.

The respondents' biggest fear was that kids would connect with pedophiles in chat rooms; 61 percent cited predators in chat rooms as the biggest threat. An additional 16 percent said pornographic Web sites posed a danger.

The survey also asked about phishing scams, computer viruses and spyware from Web sites for gaming.

Consumers in this survey didn't think the hazards of spyware and identity theft applied to children. Only 8 percent believed phishing was the biggest threat to kids. Just 3 percent identified spyware as the biggest threat to kids, and a mere 4 percent said viruses were the worst danger.

Of course, they are a danger to adults with credit cards and credit scores, yet only 50 percent had installed a software firewall, and only 23 percent had installed a full security suite to secure their personal computers against such Internet threats.

To get the word out, Zone Labs launched a new consumer education portal, safe.zonelabs.com, where people can download a free guide called "How to Protect your Family Online." Consumers also can download the company's free ZoneAlarm personal firewall and find out about the company's other products.

Laura Yecies, general manager of Zone Labs, said the company wants to get across the message that both technology and good parenting are needed to keep kids safe. "You need to take the basic, logical steps to protect the computer and also the basic parenting steps of working with your kids and supervising them appropriately," she said.

One tip in the guide is that the PC should live in the family room or other public place, not behind a closed bedroom door. "There's a totally different psychology between having the PC in a family room where mom is coming in and out than when it's in a bedroom with a closed door," Yecies said.

The company also signed on as the primary sponsor of SafeKids.com, a Web site dedicated to helping families make smart choices about technology and the Internet.

SafeKids.com founder, journalist Larry Magid, is also on the board of directors of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"Parents are right to be concerned with what happens in chat rooms," Magid said. "The Internet has opened the door for predators to reach children. They have an enormous opportunity that was not there before."

But Magid pointed out that the Internet is not the only threat. While Internet chat is the most dangerous activity at home, he said that mobile phones have opened up another way for pedophiles to communicate with kids -- away from their parents' eyes.

"The danger comes from instant messaging on phones, and also the exchange of pictures or video in both directions, as well as telephone calls," Magid said. "Now that a very large percentage of teens have cell phones, they're accessible away from home."

Ultimately, Magid said, it's not a technology problem, but a social one. It's kids who don't get security and emotional support from family and friends who are most at risk of getting involved with an adult stranger who seems so much more available and understanding than the parents.

"Part of the answer," Magid said, "has to do with creating support systems at home that are adequate, and part is the kids understanding that there is no free lunch."