[EDITORIALS]Keeping kids safe onlineAn eleven-year-old girl recently committed suicide after being lectured by her mother for a huge Internet bill. But this incident is not just another family tragedy. Hyped by the false fame of the Internet paradise, society is to blame for negligence of ethical responsibilities toward the paid Internet contents business.
With over 26 million Internet users, the virtual world is an indispensable part of our daily lives. Extending life into virtual reality is a way to make a personal life rich, and is nothing to be blamed for. The problem is that youth are defenselessly exposed to the profit-seeking content providers before their sense of identity is established. The damage has now backfired in our homes.
You can build your virtual alter ego by creating an avatar, an onscreen cartoon figure that represents you. Forty percent of the avatar users are teens, and online games such as Lineage rely heavily on teenage users. You will even find paid pornography sites targeting elementary school students. Among the electronic business complaints filed at the Consumer Protection Board in the first half of 2002, the number of paid content-related cases increased fourfold compared to the same period the previous year. But the government has failed to come up with an appropriate prescription.
Minors under age 14 are required by law to obtain consent from their parents or guardians to buy Internet content, but the censorship of the authorities is too loose to enforce the restrictions. Moreover, children are easily tempted because they can pay by simply dialing a pay service using a cell or home phone.
The government must adopt a mandatory electronic certification system that requires parents’ permission when their children want to use paid Internet content. The current payment systems need to be re-evaluated so that children cannot exploit them. Civilian Internet watchdogs should oversee cyberspace and catch the unethical service providers who lure innocent children. Society should protect our children; one more has become a cyberworld victim.
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