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Digital Agenda: survey highlights strengths and weaknesses of parental control programmes
Results from a study released by the European Commission show that while a healthy 84% of the software programs tested enable parents to block access to certain websites, they are less efficient at filtering so-called web 2.0 content such as social networking sites or blogs.
In addition, only a few products on the market are able to filter web content accessed via mobile phones or game consoles, at a time when one child out of four in Europe goes online in this way.
In parallel, an EUKIdsOnline survey, also funded by the EU's Safer Internet Programme, found that only a quarter of EU parents use parental control software to monitor, track or filter what their children can do online.
The publication of these surveys serves to raise awareness of the importance of protecting children from certain Internet content while giving parents an objective view of which parental control software is the most effective.
The Commission is committed to helping parents and their children keep safe online as part of the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200).
The study published today analysed 26 parental control tools for PCs, 3 for games consoles and 2 for mobile phones. The study found that the existing software is good at filtering adult online content, but there is still at least a 20% chance that sites with unsuitable material for children and especially those encouraging youngsters to self harm (sites promoting anorexia, suicide or self-mutilation) could pass through their filters. At the same time, other sites that include content specifically for children are blocked. Only a few tools are able to filter web 2.0 content (such as social networking sites, forums, and blogs), block instant messaging or chat protocols or filter contact lists.
As far as parental controls for smart phones and game consoles are concerned, not all products on the market are able to filter web content although 31% of children in Europe access the Internet via their mobile phones and 26% go online via game consoles.
English is the most common language for the parental control tools, while the choice of tools for other languages is limited.
Only a quarter of parents use parental control tools
The EUKidsOnline survey also published today shows that roughly a quarter of parents block or filter websites (28%) and/or track the websites visited by the children (24%). However, there is a significant difference between Member States, ranging from 54% in the UK to 9% in Romania.
In addition to the use of parental controls, 70% of parents surveyed said that they talk to their children about what they do on the Internet. 58% of parents claim that they stay nearby their children when they use the Internet. Over half of parents also take positive steps such as suggesting how to behave towards others online (56%) and talking about things that might bother the child (52%).
Under the Safer Internet Programme of the EU, the Commission will continue to fund a review of parental control software every 6 months until the end of 2012 and monitor progress. A database where parents can search for the parental control tool most suitable to their needs is available at www.yprt.eu/sip.
The Commission also supports empowerment of children and their parents through funding of the Safer Internet Centres who will celebrate Safer Internet Day on Tuesday 8th February 2011. The event will involve local and national events throughout Europe and worldwide. The events will be for children, but also for parents and teachers, who want to learn how they can help keep children safe online.
The "Benchmarking of parental control tools for the online protection of children" project has been funded by the EU's Safer Internet Programme since 2006.
The tools included in this project were analysed with settings for two age groups: 10 year olds and younger and 11+ year olds in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish between September and October 2010. The tools were tested according to 4 criteria:
Functionality: is the tool compatible with the operating systems (e.g. Windows, Linux, Mac OS)? Can it filter web content according to keywords, topics, URLs? Can it block or monitor access to the Internet, emails, chats, instant messaging tools?
Security: can the tool be easily disabled or by-passed by technology-savvy youngsters?
Effectiveness: can the tool fully block websites with unsuitable material for children or can these sites still be accessed? Does it also block good content for children? Is it available in languages users are confident with? Can it properly filter blogs, forums, and social networking sites?
Usability: Can both beginner and advanced users install the tool on their computer? Is the installation process too complex? Is it easy for the parent and child to understand when a website was blocked?
The EUKidsOnline survey was conducted in 25 countries with more than 25 000 children and one of their parents between April and August 2010. The survey is part of the EUKidsOnline II project, funded by the Safer Internet Programme and coordinated by the London School of Economics and Political Science. Initial findings were released in October 2010 (see IP/10/1368).
For more information:
The full Safer Internet Programme report on "Benchmarking of parental control tools for the online protection of children" is available online:
The full EUKidsOnline report is available online:
Safer Internet Day 2011: