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One-in-Five 9–11 Year-Old Children Admit to Meeting a Stranger They Speak to Online

Almost one-in-five schoolchildren aged between 9 and 11 years old admitted to meeting up with strangers they speak to on the internet
Almost one-in-five schoolchildren aged between 9 and 11 years old admitted to meeting up with strangers they speak to on the internet

This first day Get Safe Online Week is marked by the release of two major surveys. GSOL questioned 2004 adults about their online behavior and habits, and have developed '10 tips for staying safe online' from the results. For security-savvy users the advice is fairly obvious – including the use of security software, using a PIN, using secure WiFi, and being careful about what is posted – but the results of the survey demonstrate that such advice is not yet adequately heeded.

For example, only 42% of users have a password or PIN on their mobile device, and only 25% have installed security software. Of those who do use a password, almost half have the same password for all accounts.

The second survey was undertaken by the ISC² Foundation in support of Get Safe Online Week. This survey questioned 1,162 UK primary school children about their online behavior – with worrying results. Almost one-in-five schoolchildren aged between 9 and 11 years old admitted to meeting up with strangers they speak to on the internet – and in 50% of these instances, the child went alone.

This may be partly explained, suggests the ISC² Foundation, by an absence of adequate parental control. Fifteen percent of the children said their parents never check their online activities; more than a third access the internet from the privacy of their bedrooms; and 30% have never received information on how to use the internet safely. 

The survey was carried out by Tim Wilson, a security professional and school governor of 14 years' standing. “For parents, there is a strong call to action to ensure they are engaged in how their children use the Internet,” he said. “Bringing the family computer into the living room and having open conversations about potential online dangers will help them play a more active role in the relationships children are increasingly starting online."

However, Dr Brian Bandey, a Doctor of Law whose specialties include e-safety law, is not at all surprised about the findings. He notes that children have always been tempted into behavior they know to be wrong – since long before the advent of cyberspace.  "The Law of Negligence," he told Infosecurity, "is replete with cases where children have been injured in circumstances where they knew their action was wrong, knew it to be dangerous – but the allurement was too great to be resisted. There is nothing new under the sun and the dangerous recreation on the unfenced building site now happens in unfenced cyberspace. Education is not enough. It's time for more virtual fences."

He suggests that since adults created this new cyber playground in which children play, it is adults that need to protect them. "Children do not construct the 'virtual arena' in which they interact to their detriment – third parties do and for commercial gain. The Law has developed, over the years, a number of avenues for making not only a corporation criminally liable, but its officers and managers too. It's time for e-Safety Law in respect of minors to be given real teeth. I suggest with sufficient incentive, those who make profit from the online world would soon find the technological means to accurately supervise the on-line behavior of minors.

"I believe," he added, "it is time to move beyond counting how many times issues of cyberdanger arise in which the child is an active participant (whether bullying, sexting, shaming or meeting strangers offline) but start asking why they do what they do."

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