DEMO: Symantec Wants Kids Involved In Online Safety - InformationWeek
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DEMO: Symantec Wants Kids Involved In Online Safety

Symantec's Family Safety Initiative turns the usual Internet content monitoring paradigm on its head.

Symantec has a new approach to keeping kids safe online: giving kids a hand in their own surveillance.

At the DEMO Conference in Palm Desert, Arizona, this week, Symantec plans to demonstrate a new research project, known internally as the Symantec Family Safety Initiative, that turns the usual Internet content monitoring paradigm on its head.

Rather than mimicking the authoritarian approach favored in many IT departments and simply blocking certain Web sites or limiting access to pre-screened safe sites, Symantec wants to keep kids safe by giving them a hand in their regulation.

"There's an education gap that's continuing to grow between kids and adults," said Gerry Egan, director of product management at Symantec Research Labs. "What we've really tried to do is build a product that requires trust and collaboration."

Egan rejects the notion that this approach acknowledges parental defeat at the hands of their cyber-savvy kids. Instead, he says it reflects the reality that you get better results by involving everyone in the process of cyber safety. "If you come down with a big stick or make the rules to rigid, kids will subvert them," he said. "The expectation is that in many households, the kid will be the one that installs this, in conjunction with the parents."

Developed by Symantec Advanced Concepts, a "startup-style" innovation incubation group within Symantec Research Labs that exists outside of the company's major business units, the Symantec Family Safety Initiative isn't yet a formal product. It is being shown at the DEMO Conference with the expectation that it will be further refined in private testing in coming months and eventually adopted by Symantec's consumer products unit.

The project's focus is to create a way to protect whole families and their one or more home computers without creating a sort of cyber Big Brother.

The software will provide ways to monitor Web, IM, social network, and e-mail usage while still offering some measure of privacy. For example, it includes mechanisms to prevent kids from revealing phone numbers or address information to unapproved contacts. And it will enable parents to set time limits on online activities and to vet friend requests from social networks. It will create logs of online activities for parents to view, hopefully without forcing kids to resort to cryptic messages like "POS" -- parent over shoulder. The logs will tell parents who their kids are talking to without necessarily revealing the contents of the conversation.

Egan said a public beta will probably be available in several months.

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