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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Internet Safety Month, Part 5: Search Engine Filters and Portals for Kids
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In this fifth installment of my series to coincide with "National Internet Safety Month" (Here are parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), I will be outlining search engine filters and kid-friendly web portals.

Safe Search Tools
Parents can use tools embedded in search engines to block a great deal of potentially objectionable content that children might inadvertently stumble upon during searches. For example, Google offers a SafeSearch feature that allows users to filter unwanted content. Users can customize their SafeSearch settings by clicking on the “Preferences” link to the right of the search box on the Google.com home page. Users can choose “moderate filtering,” which “excludes most explicit images from Google Image Search results but doesn’t filter ordinary web search results,” or “strict filtering,” which applies the SafeSearch filtering controls to all search engine results.

Similarly, Yahoo! also has a SafeSearch tool that can be found under the “Preferences” link on the “My Web” tab. Like Google, Yahoo! allows strict or moderate filtering. Microsoft’s Live Search works largely the same way. Other search engine providers such as AltaVista, AskJeeves, HotBot, Lycos, and AllTheWeb, also provide filtering tools. Working in conjunction with other filters, these search engine tools are quite effective in blocking a significant amount of potentially objectionable content.

A better approach to use with younger children is to direct them to search engines or web portals geared toward younger audiences. Several excellent websites, such as those listed in Table 1 below, let kids search numerous sites without stumbling upon adult-oriented material. Better yet, they direct children to sites and information that are educational and enriching. In essence, these search portals are massive white lists of acceptable sites and content that have been pre-screened to ensure that they are appropriate for very young web surfers. The only downside of using such services is that a lot of wonderful material available on the World Wide Web might be missed. But many parents will be willing to make that trade-off since they desire greater protection of their children from potentially objectionable content.

Table 1: Kid-Friendly Internet Search Engines and Portals

• ALA’s Great Web Sites for Kids (www.ala.org/greatsites)
• AOL for Kids (U.S.) (http://kids.aol.com)
• AOL for Kids (Canada) (http://canada.aol.com/aolforkids)
• Ask Jeeves for Kids (www.askforkids.com)
• Awesome Library for Kids (www.awesomelibrary.org)
• Diddabdoo (www.dibdabdoo.com)
• Education World (www.education-world.com)
• Fact Monster (www.factmonster.com)
• Family Source (www.family-source.com)
• FirstGov for Kids (www.kids.gov)
• KidsClick (www.kidsclick.org)
• NetTrekker (www.nettrekker.com)
• SearchEdu.com (www.searchedu.com)
• Surfing the Net with Kids (www.surfnetkids.com)
• Surf Safely.com (www.surfsafely.com)
• TekMom’s Search Tools for Students
• ThinkQuest Library (www.thinkquest.org/library)
• Yahoo! Kids (http://kids.yahoo.com)

Online Content-Tailoring Options and Kid-Friendly Websites
The child-friendly web portals discussed above generally direct children to informational and educational sites and resources. But there exist many other ways to tailor the web-surfing experience to a family’s specific needs and values. The Internet is full of wonderful sites dedicated to kids and teens. Many have an educational focus, whereas others offer enjoyable games and activities for children. Table 2 highlights some of the best of these websites, but this list just scratches the surface. If parents wanted, they could configure their web browsers to access only sites such as these and then block access to all other webpages.

Table 2: Child- and Teen-Oriented Websites

• Clever Island (www.cleverisland.com)
• Disney Playhouse
• Disney’s Club Blast
• Disney’s Toon Disney Games
• Disney Toontown Online
• Habbo (www.habbo.com)
• HBO Family Games (www.hbofamily.com/games)
• JuniorNet (www.juniornet.com)
• Kaboose Family Network (www.kaboose.com)
• Kaboose FunSchool (http://funschool.kaboose.com)
• KidsClick (www.kidsclick.org)
• KidsFirst (www.kidsfirst.org)
• Microsoft At School
• Net Smartz Kids (www.netsmartzkids.org)
• Nickelodeon Games (www.nick.com/games)
• Nick Jr. Games (www.nickjr.com)
• Nicktropolis (www.nicktropolis.com)
• Noggin Games (www.noggin.com/games)
• PBS Kids (http://pbskids.org/go)
• Safe Sites for Children (U.K.) (www.ssfchildren.co.uk)
• Surfing the Net with Kids (www.surfnetkids.com)
• Surf USA (www.surfonthenet.com)
• Yahoo! Kids (http://kids.yahoo.com)
• YoKidsYo (www.yokidsyo.com)
• Zeeks (www.zeeks.com)

[In Part 6, I will discuss how industry can adopt a voluntary code of conduct for online safety.]

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:34 AM | Free Speech , Online Safety & Parental Controls

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