Thanks to Santa, many kids will be going online for the first time this Christmas. A public meeting in Bantry last week offered great advice on internet safety, reports Siobhán Cronin
PHONES and tablets are on almost all Santy lists these days, so Christmas often brings with it a child’s first experience of being ‘connected’ to the world.
With this in mind, junior health Minister Jim Daly organised a public meeting on internet safety in Bantry earlier this week.
Parents can’t help feeling conflicted about the value of their children having regular access to the internet. While they don’t want them to feel left out, they are also hugely concerned by the now common stories of bullying, stalking, pornography and sexting.
‘I am coming at this more as a parent than a politician,’ said the Minister on Monday night in the Westlodge Hotel, acknowledging that the world of technology is moving too fast for many parents to keep up with it.
As a result, Minister Daly recently launched a major internet safety initiative, which saw every primary school in West Cork offered a new device called ‘iKydz’, devised by two Irish businessmen – Jason Sheehy and John Molloy.
Jason explained to The Southern Star how the device came about because IT expert John was travelling a lot at the time, and concerned about the access his children had to the internet, back home.
He found himself logging into the router at home and trying to restrict their access to different sites, which became increasingly complicated.
John also found that lots of his friends – who were also parents – were asking him how they could restrict access for their children, too.
‘We had a chat about it and realised this was something that might work as a business,’ explained Jason, who is an accountant by trade, and at the time had other business interests abroad.
Today, the Dublin-based firm has seven full-time staff in Ireland, and distributors across the world. Customer care is handled by Cork firm Voxpro.
Just a year after launching, iKydz already has customers in 28 countries, including the UK, Canada, the US, Australia, most of continental Europe, and even in parts of North Africa.
Some countries are also interest in tracking the phones, as security for children against kidnapping can be quite an issue in many countries – although it seems a bizarre concept to those of us in Europe.
But the most common use for the iKydz box is to customise each device in a home – so you can decide who gets how much internet time, and what sites they can access, and what level of security they need – ie, a low level for older teens, a high level for under 10s, and a mid-range level for those in between.
Jason said the most important aspect of iKydz is that it is easy to use. That was the number one requirement he heard from parents. You simply plug it into the back of your existing wifi router, create a new password for the router, so the kids don’t know it, and then each device in the house connects to the iKydz wifi, which is a new, protected, wifi signal, inside your home. The access is controlled by an app on the parent’s phone and even when devices, like phones, are used outside the house, they will retain the access restrictions.
Each device can have its own profile on your app – and there is room for well over 20 devices to be connected to it – and you can adjust the settings for each phone, iPad, tablet, PC, or even gaming device, depending on what access you want each child to have.
The parent can also choose what sites the child can see. Unlike other ‘nanny’ apps that limit access on each device, and which children could very quickly learn how to circumnavigate, this Irish system is much more secure, because it controls access to everything that comes into the house, at source – through the wifi connection, and not through the device itself. Changes can only be made via the parent’s app, which is pin-protected.
You can also set it so each device loses internet access at a different time each night – so a younger child might see their wifi switch off at 8pm, whereas an older sibling might still have access til 9pm, for example.
Minister Daly, who has the device at home, said there is a wonderful ‘mealtime’ button on the app, which is a simple‘x’ you can hit, and it ‘kills’ the internet for 40 minutes.
‘I just hit that x, and the kids are down the stairs straightaway because the wifi has gone off,’ he said, and Jason added that the ‘mealtime’ function was a suggestion he got from another parent.
The iKydz device updates every 24 hours with new sites that may be deemed inappropriate, depending on the setting you have for each device.
It retails at about €100 as a once-off fee, and the app is available on all the big app stores.
As a back-bencher, Minister Daly proposed a new law that would fine parents for allowing their children own mobile phones with unrestricted access to the internet, but he also wanted to see retailers facing fines if they sold such devices to children under 14.
The former chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs had tried to get the large internet providers onside to help secure the web for children, but found co-operation was difficult. ‘This really is the solution to all that,’ he told The Southern Star on Monday. ‘Eir have an agreement with iKydz and are actively promoting it too, so that is great progress.’
Minister Daly also joked that he appeared to be such an advocate of iKydz that he might be looking for a job as a salesman ‘if I don’t get re-elected’!
But, he said, he had no problem promoting the device because there appeared to be nobody else offering the service in Ireland, so there was no competition.
‘This is also available to any school who wants this device in West Cork,’ he added.
Minister Daly will be organising a second internet safety public meeting in Kinsale in February . The date and venue for this event has yet to be announced.