Muni Wi-Fi brings fears of online predators

Advocates worry that kids will be 'interactive when parents aren't looking.'

Free wireless access may be a boon to those who need Internet access anywhere anytime, but it is becoming a bane for parents who want to control the content that their children are exposed to, reports News.com

With the plethora of mobile devices that are available to kids today, it has become easy to gain access to wireless broadband in cafes, parks and even throughout some cities. All this unfettered access has advocates for online safety concerned.

"When you give kids a wireless device in a city with Wi-Fi, it's just another way they can be interactive when you're not looking," said Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org, a nonprofit organization that provides information on Internet safety. "They're likely already doing it at their friends' house or from their cell phones, but this just makes it bigger. It gives more kids access to it."

"As unaware as parents are of what's happening on kid's computers, they're far less aware of what's happening on their mobile devices, even the iPods," said Art Wolinsky, technology director at WiredSafety.org.

Some of the connected gaming devices, such as Sony's PSP, have filters, but most parents - and kids - aren't that savvy with the devices. Parents are generally familiar with PC filtering software such as Net Nanny that can block sites or set time limits.

Wi-Fi advocates say the fears are overblown.

"In theory, an enterprising child could just as easily use the PSP to log online under the covers of his bed as he could in the park," said Ron Sege, president and CEO of Tropos, a provider of Wi-Fi networking equipment.
Some Wi-Fi networks are configured so users must register first before getting online. But in a free zone, no user requirements are required, and kids would probably have an easier time getting on an unfiltered net.
"Right now it's not a big issue, but it could become a bigger issue if the game devices and other things like phones are developed without any regard to this issue or restriction," said Belanger, managing director of Novarum, a Wi-Fi consulting firm.