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Study: Parents would pay for safe Net

More than half of parents with Web surfing children are willing to pay for services that police Net content and chat rooms, a study shows.

SAN FRANCISCO--More than half of parents with Web-surfing children are willing to pay for services that police Internet content and chat rooms for inappropriate material, according to a study released today.

The study, announced today by Jupiter Communications at a conference here on children's online issues, was based on a consumer survey conducted by research firm NFO Interactive. The results reflect the heightened fear among parents regarding what their children are doing on the Internet and what material they are receiving by email.

The study found that 68 percent of parents are concerned about their children being exposed to potentially harmful material on the Internet, ranging from pornography to manipulative email from direct marketers. They also are wary of their children interacting with strangers in chat rooms, the report said.

In addition, a high percentage of parents are taking active measures to limit what their children do online. According to the study, 66 percent of parents do not allow their children to give out personal information; about 62 percent prohibit online shopping; and 54 percent take steps to prevent children from accessing adult entertainment sites.

Today's findings may add further fuel to today's scathing criticism from the Commerce Department and the Electronic Privacy Information Center that companies are not doing enough to ensure consumer privacy on the Internet.

Despite a number of initiatives that have arisen among corporations to maintain self-regulation, such as yesterday's launch of the Online Privacy Alliance, privacy advocates and the federal government are still frowning upon what they consider a lukewarm effort by the online industry.

Net companies have continually maintained a vocal stance for self-governance, and have been on the defensive about government intervention into their online privacy practices. Industry executives have said in the past that the free market will take care of itself.

"Businesses should aggressively focus on advertising and subscription revenue models for kid-oriented Web sites, while posting prominent privacy statements, eradicating direct marketing through email, and scaling back on requests for personal information," said Jupiter senior analyst Regina Joseph in a statement.

Besides the parent survey, another study ranked children's most common activities on the Net. Email topped the ranks, followed by general Web surfing, homework, games, and chat, Jupiter said.

Joseph noted that the top two most accessed services on the Internet--email and chat--also were the two greatest concerns among parents. Although the results reflect the ongoing development in children's Internet patterns, Joseph said that both companies and parents need to find common ground and that online developers have to engage parents and children to ensure that they will not compromise their privacy.

"If [companies] want to maintain any kind of online business and make it profitable, they must make clear to parents that their site does not compromise the privacy of either parent or child," Joseph said in an interview.

"Parents must [demonstrate] greater awareness, too," Joseph added. "It's as much a parent's responsibility as whether or not they should let their kids watch violent films."