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Internet Safety Awareness - A Woeful Condition
By Paul Hook -- February 28, 2001
Internet safety awareness is more needed today than ever, and yet receives very little attention.  The Internet continues to experience a phenomenal growth rate, and the dangers on the Internet are just as dynamic.  This creates an alarmingly proportional growth in victims, yet the awareness of the Internet public at large is dismal.

Paul Hook

Internet safety is a much larger topic than most anyone would think of when the term is mentioned, and because the topic is so fractured it is completely decentralized in terms of the approaches that organizations that are concerned with safety online are taking today.

This does not make them remiss in their activities, they are specialists, and they are to be commended for what they are doing.  The problem is that there has not been a concerted effort by safety organizations to get the attention of those who could (and should) promote awareness.

What are the Dangers?

The list of dangers on the Internet is substantial, yet when asked the question, “What are the dangers?” most will answer, “Kids being sought out by predators”.  This proves one positive point; organizations like http://www.cyberangels.org and others are doing a good job in their specialty.

So what are the other dangers?  Let’s take a look at a list of dangers that should all come under the discussion of Internet safety. 

  • Child exploitation
  • Adult victims of predators they have met on the Internet.
  • Cyber stalking.
  • Identity theft.
  • Financial theft (credit card info)
  • Unwelcome Pornography at every corner.
  • Virus exploits.
  • Hackers.
  • Get rich quick scams.
  • Charity scams.
  • Spy ware intrusions.

And there are probably more.   The point is this:  someone somewhere addresses all of the above subjects.  Some to a greater degree than others, but until now there has been no major activity to promote awareness to these dangers as a whole.   Someone new to the Internet can only become aware of these problems and their solutions by being told about them directly, becoming a victim, or stumbling on them as they surf.

The Internet is Like a Dark Alley

For someone just acquiring a computer, or a new Internet connection, it’s like a child being sent out into a dark alley all alone without any conversation of the dangers there.

When you purchase a computer there is no one that explains to you that there are dangers on the Internet.  The only conversation that may even come close is an attempt to sell you a firewall or premium anti virus program.  This is not education it is sales.

When you sign up for Internet service, there is no mailer, no phone warning, and no highlighted warnings in the ISP splash page that there are dangers on the Internet, at least none that I have discovered in my research.

Nothing That Calls for Attention

There is nothing I have found in all of my research that would cause a new Internet user to educate themselves on the issues here.  There are what I would call “token” gestures by some ISPs, such as offers of parental controls and filtering, but this only part of the issue and is primarily there as a reaction to some of the good work being done by afore mentioned organizations, and the government.

Then there is the notices in member areas such as, “do not give out your password…” or “ do not give out your credit card number…” but even these notices just blend in with the rest of the text.

And let’s not forget the virus alerts (and many of them are even Internet clogging hoaxes), they do call some attention to the need for anti-virus protection.

However, there just are no alarming stimuli to bring a new user to research these issues.

The Proof is in the Surfing

There are tools available on some search engines that allow you to see how many times a given term is searched during a previous period, usually the previous month.  Here is a little exercise that I did to verify the veracity of these points.

Going to... http://inventory.goto.com/inventory/Search_Suggestion.jhtml
(now inactive)

I typed in the key term “chat”.  This one key term returned exactly 100 variations of search with the word “chat” in them, none of which was “chat safety”.  The first entry, “chat”, was entered 1,393,096 times in January.  The second place term, “chat room”, was searched 404,490 times, and the third place term, “Yahoo chat”, was requested 177,014 times.  The total for all 100 variations was far in excess of 3,000,000 searches for a single month.

Next, let’s look at the missing term “chat safety”.  This search reveals two variations.  The number one ranked was “chat room safety” with 86 searches, number two was “chat safety” with 47 searches.

This is amazing disparity when you consider that the number one venue for the origination of crimes against children, and possibly adults as well, is chat rooms.  What were those numbers again?  100,000 searches a day for chat as recreation vs. 5 searches a day looking for chat safety tips!

Again this was just one term.  Repeating this exercise with other terms is just as revealing.  And just as one last example, the generic “Internet safety” only returns 16 variations with the number one term being “Internet safety” with just 1,731 searches, and all term variations totaling only 2,809 searches.  Again, this is a staggering disparity against the volume of requests for other “popular” searches.

There can really be only one conclusion from these indicators, and that is that the Internet public is just not concerned about safety.  Why?  Because they are not aware of the dangers.

What is to be done?

Awareness is the best solution to this situation, and the issue of promoting awareness rests with computer vendors, ISPs, and site operators.  It wouldn’t take much to offer a handout or even some verbal communication at the point of sale to stimulate an interest in researching the dangers and the safeguards that are available to new users.

It wouldn’t take much to highlight a message on the splash page of a new users’ ISP to call attention to the value of such research.

Additionally, it would only take a little effort to post a graphic or highlighted text message on a site that the operators support Internet safety awareness.

This little bit of effort, on the part of all, could go a long way towards reducing the incidents that do occur, and create repeat, goodwill visitors as well.

Copyright 2001
All Rights Reserved
Paul Hook

About the Author
Paul Hook is the owner of TheGuardianAngel.com TM  . . . The site's goal is to create an environment of safety on the Internet through promoting awareness of all of the dangers that exist on the Internet, and through its interactive database, Positive ID Profile System, which was created to give you the ability to know who you, or your kids, are talking to on the Internet. 

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