With students extensively going online to connect with friends and enrich their knowledge, safe browsing has become a matter of great importance, says K. Jeshi

Budding photographer Gaurav Ram Narayanan, a class IX student, is a regular at an online nature forum. His recent post on www.indianaturewatch.com is a stunning image of a beautiful tigress stalking a deer in the rain, which he shot at Rajberra. When his photograph receives positive feedback from top class photographers across the globe, his day is made.

If social networking helps youngsters stay connected with family and friends, a number of online interactive forums enhance their knowledge on a variety of topics. But this growing trend of youngsters spending long hours on the Internet raises a question on online safety. Is it safe to allow children unlimited browsing without any monitoring?

Online safety

“No. Ensuring safe browsing is the key,” says Venkatraman Rajendran, cyber law advocate and secretary of the Cyber Society of India. “At a time when social media is the rage, it is difficult to stop children from going online. It is vital to instal anti-spyware and anti-malware to block unwanted content. Companies such as KasperSky, K7 and Symantec offer significant Firewall settings for domestic users too. Advanced browsers such as IE, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, and search engines have plenty of options to ensure online safety of children,” he says.

V. Ram Narayanan, Gaurav's father, ensures that elders are around to guide his son whenever he is on the Internet. “My son goes online to look for information on wildlife, technical know-how on photography, and participates in online forums.”

D. Vasudevan, CEO of the Bangalore-based evalai, an exclusive search engine for students, says misuse of the Internet can happen anytime. “While browsing for relevant information, they might unknowingly click on links that pop up which might lead them to pornographic sites,” he explains.

Secure search engine

Launched in August 2008, www.evalai.com is a secure search engine and safe browser. Once installed, it treats the user by default like a 13-year-old. “It limits their access to information. They get to browse only areas of education such as courses that are available, study-abroad opportunities and so on. To enjoy unrestricted access, parents and teachers generate a user name and password and log in as an adult. Every process is routed through the school,” he explains.

Aggressive websites, pornographic sites, extremist videos on YouTube and online games that encourage violence and bloodshed are blocked. An in-house team filters websites based on a rating of the content as applicable to children, teens and adults. “People physically monitor the content. Right now it is active in French, Chinese, English, Hindi, Marathi and some south Indian languages. Once a safe browser is in place, you can safely gift a laptop to any child,” he says.

Other safety products are www.spsrm.com (a School Parent Relationship Management), a social networking platform within the school and www.spsin.com (School Management software). Additional features include alumni network, digital diary (a replica of the physical diary) which allows students to maintain photos and videos along with text, a virtual classroom, e-library and e-learning. “Parents and teachers have the option of overviewing our decisions. For example, we leave it to them to decide if they want the children to access Facebook or not. Our objective is to authenticate content because once a child clicks on a wrong link, he could become curious. We want to stop them before that,” Vasudevan says.

Parents can take it easy once they instal a protective shield in the form of a safe browser, says Nirmala Ramesh, partner in RR Consultancy, which deals with education products. They are the Tamil Nadu partners for evalai.com

“Though Firewall blocks unwanted sites, hundreds of sites are added every day. In the age of nuclear families, where every child has a separate room and an individual PC, physical monitoring of browsing behaviour becomes difficult,” she acknowledges.

Spending more time with children while browsing is important, says T.M. Vijayanand of S16 Creative Labz, which has brought out an education guide for schools and colleges. “Parents should get tech savvy and understand social media and tech gadgets. They should be aware of blocking options available on search engines and browsers. They can also track browsing history to understand their child's online habits.”

Parents can watch the browsing history and block unwanted sites by using simple settings in the browser tools, says Nandakumar Somasundaram of Ndot (http://ndot.in) that deals with social media applications such as integrating Facebook, Twitter, Social Media Widgets and Google buzz. “A Google toolbar ensures safe browsing. There are exclusive kid browsers too. Other basic ways are using Firewall and installing antivirus software such as KasperSky safe browsing to block sites.”

“Don't put psychological barriers. Be a good guide,” advises Venkatraman.

Dos and Don'ts

* Never allow an adolescent to browse for long alone in a room.

* Place the monitor in a place where it is visible to everyone.

* Be aware of his circle of friends on social networking sites.

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