Parents who worry about their children cruising the Internet have just gotten an important new safety belt.
In an extraordinary collaboration of some of the biggest names in online and high-tech companies, the Internet industry is launching a new Web site that will provide ways to combat the problems involved when children view inappropriate and dangerous content on the Internet.
"We think it's unprecedented," says Jerry Berman, president of the Internet Education Foundation, a nonprofit Washington, D.C., group responsible for building and maintaining the service.
The site is called GetNetWise (www.getnetwise.org), and it brings together many of the filtering programs and tips and contact numbers that parents can use to ensure their children travel safely in cyberspace. "It functions like an electronic Yellow Pages," Mr. Berman says, and these resources will be a mere click away at high-traffic sites throughout the Internet.
The site has already attracted nearly three dozen sponsors and supporters, including America Online, AT&T, IBM, Microsoft, Association of American Publishers, and the American Library Association. They've poured in nearly $1 million in money, time, and materials to build the GetNetWise site and have committed to funding and staffing it through 2000.
This effort by the private sector represents the biggest step yet toward industry self-regulation and it could also forestall more government intervention down the road.
"Disney and all the other players understand that we need to be doing these things," says Steve Wadsworth, who heads Disney's Buena Vista Internet Group in Burbank, Calif. "The industry can rally around the right things and govern itself."
The heart of the site is an easy-to-use database that quickly guides consumers to programs that filter out objectionable material. For example, a Windows 98 user can find five programs that automatically censor hate language in e-mail; Mac users can locate eight programs that block computers from sending out personal information.
The site also contains age-specific safety tips, a large number of recommended kids' sites, and state-by-state contacts in law-enforcement if children or parents come across something they believe is illegal.
"We want young people to be on the Internet," says Berman. "It's a new social environment. And while it has great content and great opportunities, there are also dangers on the Internet."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society