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And now to the most dangerous internet activity… Chat and Instant Messaging. Most computer newcomers think instant messaging is wonderful. It's much like using the telephone if you select voice messaging. And you can talk for free to people around the world. You wouldn't talk for hours on the telephone with even friends from other continents, but you may do so using Instant Messaging. Or by using its textbased sibling, Chat.
The problem with chat and instant messaging is that you aren't talking privately. You may choose private but by it's nature it is public. Email itself isn't private. Techies from internet service companies can intercept and read your personal email. Not that they'd likely do that. They don't know you and they don't care. So except for legally sensitive items or commercial transactions, email is for the most part safe.
But instant messaging is more public than email. Certainly more public that telephone. It's extremely difficult and illegal to listen to someone else's telephone conversation. But it's easy to lurk in instant messaging areas. Yes I know you create buddy lists. But that doesn't prevent others from listening in. There is even software advertised to reduce or prevent unathorized IM listening. Your children will not be careful to select private. And even if they do their friends may not and may see public messages that they tell your teenager to look at. Soon all instant messaging by your child will be public.
Sexual predators lurk silently, perhaps for months. Eventually they select their prey. They already know what this prey likes. They pretend to be a teenager at first maybe. These predators will select the most innocent. Government stings occasionally net one of these predators and convict them. But other predators lurk… It's easy to pretend to be who you are not on the internet. Your children may even pretend to be someone else, probably older.
If you wish to be sure that your children do not expose themselves to this danger you will uninstall any instant messaging. And hopefully you will become proficient in recognizing it if your teenager subsequently installs it again. AOL champions instant messaging as do others like MSN. I'm not even sure that you can uninstall instant messaging from AOL. Perhaps you should select an ISP that doesn't provide instant messaging by default. iFUN.com does not. And others do not.
And girls aren't the only ones preyed on. You know what I mean… The most gross pornographic images and talk can be shared through instant messaging. There are no email addresses associate with this traffic. Spoofing makes tracking the lurker difficult. Instant messaging isn't safe.
It's not just what's lurking silently on chat or instant messaging sites that makes these popular features so dangerous. What makes them more dangerous is that they don't leave trails. Surfing web sites leaves trails. There are bookmarks, caching, and internet history. Bookmarks are more or less permanent history. I choose to save a bookmark. Caching and internet history are trails that the more serious computer user can follow. But knowing they exist adds security. There's a trail to follow if really necessary. Email and newsgroups leave trails. We move these emails to folders if we really want to keep them. And if we're not sure or lazy, we just leave them there. To remove the trail we have to hit the delete button. We don't always do that. And to be really safe we could select the option to leave email on the server after downloading it. We usually don't turn on this option but it's there if we feel we need to in order to protect our child.
Chat and instant messaging don't leave trails like this. The absence of trails is the really dangerous thing about chat and instant messaging. If possibly there is a trail, the chatter had to specifically go out of his or her way to make that trail. There is no default trail. We as parent can't sit at the computer late at night and identify even the cloaked identities of the instant messaging or chat friends. We can follow the web trails and the email/newsgroup trails. That makes them safer.
To sum up… Make computer usage in your home a public experience. This will discourage most miscues. Computer usage may be a shared experience by two friends in the same room. There can be two joysticks and one computer. But internet usage is usually a personal experience. Internet games are between distant players. Email is to and from distant friends, not between two persons in the same room. Web surfing is in essence an experience between webmaster and surfer. People in the same room chat and instant message without technological devices. Internet chat and instant messaging are by nature remote communications.
So make the effort to make internet usage more of a public, shared experience. Demonstrate by your actions that you use the internet in an open environment. Show an interest in what your child or teenager does via the internet. Become aware of the different sources of sexual ,violent, and deceitful content. Talk with your children. Don't use instant messaging since if you use it your children will use it. And this usage can't be tracked. Do computing together sometimes. Choose to be careful and wise.
Stop! and Do