Pornography: what can you do to safeguard your children
Online pornography is a tricky subject.
There are a few things, we as parents can do to keep our children safe.
First and foremost, if you have young children, please supervise their internet access. This should help address most of the risks.
From a technology perspective, you’ll need to manage the internet connectivity at home, which will largely be via your home broadband router. But there may also be other potential routes to access the internet at home, for example, through mobile devices, including tablets, which may have an embedded sim card in them.
what you should avoid
- Avoid: Handing your own phone/device to your children for internet browsing
- Avoid: Unsupervised internet access to young children
- Avoid: Storing any personal data (including photos) on the device used by your children to access the internet
- Avoid: Trying to bring complete control over adult content at home (an exercise in futility)
With respect to your home broadband, the obvious suggestion would be to setup parental controls on your router.
Depending on the make and model of your router, you may be able to easily figure out the settings on your router’s web-page (which is usually http://192.168.1.1 or similar) to enable parental controls and select various parameters that meet your specific needs. You can even schedule parental controls on some routers so that they are only active at certain times of the day. Do consult your router’s user manual for more details.
In some ways it’s easier to manage adult content on SIM cards. You can do this by contacting the mobile operator and asking them to restrict adult content, which can only be unlocked with your permission. This is a good safeguard to keep in mind if you are thinking about allowing your children to access the internet on their mobile devices.
The most important thing to bear in mind however is device separation. There are obviously challenges associated with accessing inappropriate content on any device but it’s best if you do not share your devices with your children.
If you hand over your own electronic devices such as your tablet or your work phone to your children for internet browsing, there is a small chance that you may be putting your critical and personal data on the device at risk. For example, you may not be able to recover all your data if you had to factory-reset your phone/tablet/laptop to remove a virus or a malware infection.
If you are thinking of letting your children access the internet, please consider giving them their own devices. This helps separate and segregate the risks.
No matter how safe your router settings are and no matter how well designed your parental controls are, there is always a chance that the links your children follow or the sites they visit may not be benign. It’s also not too difficult to get carried away and follow links blindly on the internet. This is especially true when it comes to adult content.
To minimise the risks of installing unwanted software or scripts on the device and to safeguard your data and your children’s data, make sure you are not handing your children your personal phone/your work phone, your tablet or your computer.
You can do this by setting up a limited number of devices in your household, with sufficient privacy, content, and browser controls and only allowing your children to access the internet via these devices.
It goes without saying that these devices should not contain any personal data that relates to your children.
A recent example comes to mind here. A grandparent, who I know, handed over her tablet device to her grandchildren, and discovered later that day that there were various pop up windows and scripts in the browser and that her tablet device was pretty much unusable.
It’s likely that you have heard some variant of this story from a family member or a friend.
It’s very easy to click on and follow links on the internet and end up at precisely the wrong place. Any script and malware that may end up infecting your devices as a result of such actions, deliberate or otherwise, is not going to be very easy to get rid of.
If you separate your devices on the other hand, you will always have the option of confidently resetting the entire device to its factory settings, without losing your personal and important data.
So, do remember to separate the devices and establish some rules on who gets to use what device. Don’t hand over own your laptop, your work phone, or your personal mobile phone to your children.
Ensure that you have got sufficient controls in place. For mobile devices this includes restrictions on the type of content that can be accessed via the sim card, sufficient controls on your home internet broadband router and also sufficient controls on the phone/tablet itself such as relevant privacy settings for the device you are using (apple and android devices for example).
You do get a greater level of control on laptops and desktop computers by the way, than you do with tablet devices and mobile devices just because of the nature of the operating system.
It’s a lot easier to setup a desktop or laptop computer with all the relevant security applications such as firewalls and any content filtering software, than it is on portable mobile devices.
It’s worth bearing this in mind if you are deciding between fixed devices vs mobile devices.
The other aspect to bear in mind is the general education around pornography. You as parents are best placed to discuss this with your children.
The current rudimentary online safety mechanism that is widely used by websites relies on age verification to ensure that adult content is not served to minors. There are few challenges with this approach, as you may have guessed.
These age verification mechanisms are not always reliable and are very easy to game. There also doesn’t appear to be any sort of consistency in how they are applied.
For example, in its most basic form, a website may ask the visitor to enter their date of birth to verify whether they are over the legal age limit to access adult content. As you can imagine, this system assumes that the visitors will input their date of birth truthfully, which is not always the case.
There are also variants of this approach that ask for a credit card number instead to verify ones age. Apart from the fact that it’s not a very good idea to give away your credit card number to some unknown website serving adult content, this too assumes that visitors will truthfully enter their own card number, which is not always the case.
The UK government passed the Digital Economy Act in 2017, which made provisions for a robust age verification system for commercial adult websites. The recent press release suggests that the UK will become the first country in the world to bring in age-verification for online pornography when the measures come into force on 15 July 2019.
The UK will become the first country in the world to bring in age-verification for online pornography when the measures come into force on 15 July 2019.
As always, the best way to tackle these risks is through education.
Technology solutions and policy levers, including those that involve legal mandates such as the proposed UK age verification system, will not fully address risks surrounding inappropriate content for minors. For example, the proposed UK law does not cover all websites, but only those that are classified as commercial porn websites.
It’s also worth pointing out that trying to bring complete control over pornography and adult content at home is an exercise in futility.
Your children will in all likelihood figure out a way to access pornography one way or the other if they really want to.
You can’t stop them but you can educate them about the risks and you can help them with online safety fundamentals by setting up their devices and your internet gateways (your home broadband router and any mobile SIM card enabled devices) for safe use.
Here’s a few things you can do to safeguard children from pornographic material online:
- Supervise young children’s internet access
- Setup stringent parental controls on your home broadband router
- Setup content controls on any SIM cards used by your children
- Setup privacy and internet safety applications such as firewalls and content filtering on laptops and desktops
- Establish device separation. Give your children separate devices that have been setup with all the requisite online safety software and privacy settings.
- Educate your children about online safety fundamentals