Parental control

Parental control
Photo: Tyler Olson / Shutterstock

The Internet is for porn," sings a character in the musical Avenue Q. This lyric perfectly sums up the widespread sentiment among many Internet users. But there is more to worry about than lewd content. There are also websites that peddle illegal drugs and weapons.

More can be done to protect young and impressionable people from such content, judging from a recent set of recommendations by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

It has proposed five major changes that it hopes will increase public awareness of the parental controls offered by local Internet service providers, or ISPs.

MDA wants ISPs to offer free basic parental controls to help parents monitor how their children use the Internet. The ISPs now charge between $2 and $5 a month for these "value-added services".

Since 2012, local ISPs have been required to offer such tools to subscribers as an add-on when they sign up or renew their mobile or home broadband plans. But adoption rates are a "low" 100,000, according to MDA.

Making controls easy to install

In focus group discussions held by MDA last December, some parents could not recall if their ISPs had told them about parental controls. It also revealed that parents were concerned about the cost of subscription to such a service and whether the software would be easy to install.

Bolstering these findings, a recent poll by security firm Trend Micro found that less than 30 per cent of subscribers install such curbs on devices used to access the Internet, although more than 70 per cent of parents said they were concerned about their children accessing inappropriate content online.

On the ease of installation, MDA recommends that ISPs switch on the parental controls when subscribers sign up and provide guides to help users activate these services.

Mr Terrence Tang, a senior director at Trend Micro, said: "This move will help protect children from potential cyberthreats and increase awareness among their parents."

It would put Singapore in line with other countries such as Britain.

The parents that Digital Life spoke to welcomed the proposed measures and said they would subscribe if they were free. But while they think such curbs are useful, they know that they are not foolproof.

Mr Eugene Low, 39, a manager, who has two young children, said: "Kids usually see out-of-bound items as challenges. Getting the message across that one should be careful on the Internet and differentiating between right and wrong might be the better option."

Recognising this, MDA said it supports programmes that promote media literacy, cyberwellness and Internet safety among students and parents.

Public consultations for these recommendations ended last month. If given the green light, these measures will likely be introduced early next year.

To find out whether parental controls actually block undesirable content, we tried out existing solutions from the three big ISPs.

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