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Who gave you permission to email my child?

Dayna MacLeod
Island Parent

School is almost over and summer is right around the corner. That means children will be spending time in front of the computer surfing the net. Parents can’t keep an eye on what their children are doing at all times. More children are becoming technology savvy, thus making it easier to view graphic inappropriate material. Although parents can block certain sites, children are still receiving spam junk via e-mail. How can children be protected from this type of material?

Parents teach their children not to talk to strangers or open the door when they are home alone. Most parents also monitor where their children go, who they play with and what television shows they watch. So why should it be any different when it comes to their email account?

Today, 70% of Canadian children ages 9-19 have their own personal email account, according to a report from Media Awareness Network, entitled ‘Young Canadians in a Wired World.’

That means they are getting spam (or junk mail) messages.

According to material provided by BrightMail, one third of the 30 billion emails sent each day are spam messages, messages involving invitations to view sexually explicit material or offers to enlarge or lengthen one’s physical anatomy. That’s a scary fact. Especially if your children are seeing this material.

And that’s not all.

“Children are being scammed into opening mail with embedded links leaving them only one click away from viewing disturbing photos or content,” says Kathy Wing, Parent Expert for Media Awareness Network. “They are also being misinformed and hoaxed into buying products or donating money to fake causes.”

Media Awareness Network conducted a study in 2001 of children’s internet use. “We found that 53% of the children interviewed receive pornography on a regular basis; 78% of those children said they didn’t tell their parents,” adds Ms. Wing.

Current “net nannies” protect children from entering prohibited areas on the Internet but what is preventing obscene information from entering their mailboxes?

Well that’s where anti-spam products come in. There are a number of solutions available on the market for parents.

One approach is black listing, the process of blocking mail from certain email accounts that are added to a so-called ‘black list’. Products by McAffee and BrightMail use black lists to eliminate spam. But the blacklist system is not 100% effective. Spammers just keep changing the email addresses from which they send spam messages, so those nasty messages just keep coming.

Another approach involves filtering. Filtering blocks out any emails containing certain words such as “sex” or “viagra”. This ensures that any email with sex in the Subject line will not enter your mailbox. BrightMail, PowerMail and SpamCop use this concept in their applications. But even filtering is not completely effective. Those persistent spammers just keep changing the words in the headline or adding symbols between each letter in the word.

A third approach is white listing or permission-based anti-spam. These involve creating a list of pre-approved senders. If a message is sent from an email account that is not on the ‘white list’, the message is declined. That means your child doesn’t get email from anyone except who you approve. For example, Cousin John is allowed to send emails. But if Aunt Mary tends to send graphic jokes then “little Tommy” won’t get any emails from her. And no spam messages will get through.

One new product that uses white-listing is iPermitMail (www.ipermitmail.com). It combines a white list with adaptive inheritance technology, which allows your child’s email inbox to share a white list with your email account or with another child’s account.

All these anti-spam options are useful in their own approach. And while some are more effective than others, none are 100% fool-proof. Perhaps the best approach is to use multiple products to ensure complete coverage for your child – from any angle that the spammers try to reach them.

“Parents need to utilize as many tools as possible when it comes to protecting their children from spam,” says Tristan Goguen, president of Internet Light & Power, the creator of iPermitMail. “And they need to be aware. Encourage your child to avoid giving out their email address when entering contests or filling out information online. Tell them never to answer spam emails. And be sure they never post their email address on public forums such as chat rooms or websites.”

Implementing an anti-spam application and practicing safe-surfing means no worries for parents who want their kids to be technology savvy without being targeted with inappropriate material.

Products available:
iPermitMail – www.ipermitmail.com
BrightMail - www.brightmail.com
SpamCop – www.spamcop.com
McAffee – www.mcaffee.com
PowerMail – www.powerdns.com



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