In parallel, an EUKIdsOnline survey, funded by the EU’s Safer Internet Programme, found that only a quarter of EU parents use parental control software to monitor, track or filter what their children can do online. The publication of these surveys serves to raise awareness of the importance of protecting children from certain Internet content while giving parents an objective view of which parental control software is the most effective.
The study "Benchmarking of parental control tools for the online protection of children" included all the member states of the EU with the exception of Malta, Luxembourg and Latvia. According to one of the authors, Professor Sonia Livingstone, this was due to lack of funding. “We simply had limited funding and 25 countries was the most we could afford,” she told The Times of Malta. However, Prof. Livingstone said the European Commission was funding a follow-up project in which Malta would also be included.
In a recent study commissioned by the Malta Communications Authority on the use of ICT by minors and published in October 2010, it transpires that approximately 97% of Maltese students aged between 8 and 15 years have access to the Internet from home, with more than half (54%) accessing the Internet on a daily basis.
Malta is performing above the EU average in terms of penetration and growth rate of fast broadband internet access although it is well below the average in terms of speed and mobile broadband access according to a European Commission report published in November 2010.
The EUKidsOnline study analysed 26 parental control tools for PCs, 3 for games consoles and 2 for mobile phones and found that the existing software is good at filtering adult online content, but there is still at least a 20% chance that sites with unsuitable material for children and especially those encouraging youngsters to self harm (sites promoting anorexia, suicide or self-mutilation) could pass through their filters. At the same time, other sites that include content specifically for children are blocked. Only a few tools are able to filter web 2.0 content (such as social networking sites, forums, and blogs), block instant messaging or chat protocols or filter contact lists.
As far as parental controls for smart phones and game consoles are concerned, not all products on the market are able to filter web content although 31% of children in Europe access the Internet via their mobile phones and 26% go online via game consoles. English is the most common language for the parental control tools, while the choice of tools for other languages is limited.
Under the Safer Internet Programme of the EU, the Commission will continue to fund a review of parental control software every 6 months until the end of 2012 and monitor progress. A database where parents can search for the parental control tool most suitable to their needs is available at www.yprt.eu/sip.
The Commission also supports empowerment of children and their parents through funding of the Safer Internet Centres who will celebrate Safer Internet Day on Tuesday 8th February 2011. The event will involve local and national events throughout Europe and worldwide. The events will be for children, but also for parents and teachers, who want to learn how they can help keep children safe online.