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27. Avoiding Online dangers

By Mark Alberstat

Pop-up ads, selling everything from a university education to the latest online casino, flood web users daily. A long list of spam e-mails each day also fly in that could make the most crass user blush.

Keeping children away from these online distractions and dangers has been a concern for years, and there is no easy relief in sight. There are, however, some software solutions to aid you in the fight and some websites to make you and your family smarter and safer surfers.

The first line of defence against these unwanted intrusions is, of course, parental guidance. Control of where a child surfs on the Internet and what other online activities he or she does should be monitored by a responsible parent.

Like a playground versus a freeway, certain areas of the Internet are much more child-safe than others, and it is up to parents to keep children from playing or visiting dangerous areas.

One way of policing a child's Internet use is by investing in one of the many programs designed to help parents monitor Internet usage.

The most popular of these programs has the catchy title of Net Nanny. This program is extremely customizable and can even log Internet activity by user and time of day. The latest version also blocks pop-up and pop-under ads and has received a Very Good rating by the American watchdog group Consumer Reports.

Produced by BioNet Systems, this product has a 15-day fully functioning trial version available for downloading at its website, a feature that more software producers should consider.

A similar product is called I Am Big Brother. This software also monitors web activity and can record both sides of most chat room and instant messenger programs. Net Nanny can do this too but is an additional program to purchase. I Am Big Brother also has a downloadable demo version.

If these products are of interest to you, and you want to learn more about safe surfing for you and your family, a site that would be worth your time is

This site is hosted and produced by a team of Internet industry organizations and public interest groups, including Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo and This site can take some time to browse, as its depth and breadth in the subjects of safe surfing, firewalls, safeguarding personal information and stopping spam are all very complete. The sites also have reviews of Net Nanny and other similar products.

Another site worth a look at is This site, unlike many others, is written for the teen Net user and not the parent. The site is run by Lawrence Magid, a Los Angeles Times columnist who has written extensively on computers and Net safety.

If you want to stay Canadian, is another similar site. This one is loaded with information for the young Internet user and the parent. An extensive Links page is also available and has some links to child-safe chat rooms and educational sites. This site also has age-related safe-surfing tips because the five-year-old surfer doesn't need the same type of supervision as the 15-year-old, even if they can apply for a university degree by filling out an online pop-up form guaranteeing riches and knowledge.

On the web:

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 1 February 2004


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