Nation/World

Internet Groups To Boost Efforts Aimed At Kids’ Safety

The online industry, hoping to keep government intervention at bay, promised Monday to do more to help parents keep Internet smut away from their kids.

Building on pledges made to President Clinton in July, industry groups at a three-day meeting discussed how to educate parents about anti-smut screening and how to highlight Internet sites that are appropriate for kids.

Still, “Technology is not a replacement for good parenting,” said America Online Chairman Steve Case. “I think technology is a supplement that gives parents the tools to make the choices that they think are appropriate.”

“I hope it works,” Clinton said Monday of the industry’s efforts. “I encouraged them to do it, and I’m glad they’re doing it. I wish them well.”

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a group that works to protect computer users’ civil liberties, says all major providers of Internet access to consumers offer screening technology free or at a nominal cost. Those providers, serving 14 million households, include AOL, AT&T; WorldNet, CompuServe, Prodigy and Erol’s.

But a survey of 750 families by the monthly Family PC magazine found that only 26 percent use screening software, most of them because it is built into their web browsers or offered by their online service providers.

Just 4 percent of parents use screening software when they buy and install it on their computers, the magazine survey said.

America Online, the Walt Disney Co.’s online service, Time Warner, MCI and the Children’s Partnership, a child advocacy group, are among the organizations announcing new initiatives that include educating parents on the use of software that blocks access to adult-oriented sites.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, meanwhile, has commitments from on-line and software companies to help parents choose screening software that best suits their needs and values, deputy director Danny Weitzner said, though he wasn’t sure how that would be accomplished.

A group that includes Yahoo! Inc. and WebTV is promoting a new Web site, smartparent.com, that seeks to help parents educate themselves and their children about the dangerous side of the Net. Time Warner also said it will take steps to teach kids about online safety.

“People will be more familiar with what’s available to them,” said Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education, an advocacy group that wants to make the Internet safer and more educational for children. “This is the beginning of the discussion, not the end of one.”

The efforts grow out of a White House meeting this summer that Clinton said yielded a consensus on “how to pave the way to a family-friendly Internet without paving over the constitutional guarantees to free speech and free expression.”

The Supreme Court in June struck down a law designed to keep cyberspace’s seedy side away from children.



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