NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2007
Protect Your Kids Online With “Safe Chat”
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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http://www.zihtec.com/en/download.html - 14 day free trial

Local and national news accounts have been rampant with reports of pedophiles targeting children online. While the internet is an outstanding resource and communications tool, there is a small percentage of users who abuse the network by prowling for children to victimize. There are also countless websites providing pornography for those with prurient interests, sometimes ensnaring innocent web surfers by having websites with internet addresses appearing to be popular toys or slight misspellings of legitimate websites. While there is debate about what we parents can effectively do, and a variety of techniques that we as parents could implement to protect our children online, it would also be desirable to have a software tool providing a layer of protection for our kids. http://www.safechat.org may be just such a product that we should consider.

Safe Chat Universal Messenger With Parental Controls (http://www.safechat.org), is a $35 product that claims to provide comprehensive protection for our children while they utilize many of the services of the web. One of the key components of Safe Chat is a universal messenger that replaces the popular instant messaging utilities such as Yahoo, AIM, MSN, and ICQ with an integrated but compatible utility that allows the parents to effectively manage their children’s’ online chat sessions. Unlike the original chat utilities which safe Chat replaces, the parent can control with whom the child can chat online, as well as control the times and hours that the child can utilize the chat utility. The scheduling feature can prevent the child from engaging in online chats at times not approved by the parent. Safe Chat will also block web based chat services as well, providing additional protection.

Even if a chat partner is allowed by the parent, active content filtering is still functional. A built-in but customizable real time dictionary of prohibited words and phrases will automatically block the foul language with asterisks, such as “*****”, rather than display the inappropriate language. For privacy and safety reasons, the parent can securely enter personal data into the program, such as name, address, phone number, city, etc., and Safe Chat will prevent the child from giving out that information. The software also utilizes intelligent filtering which will automatically block a site if foul language is detected; the parent can control the sensitivity of this feature. Many chat utilities now allow for both audio (voice chat) and video (web cam) conferencing; Safe Chat can block access to such chats and disable the function at the parent’s discretion. A full text of any chats is automatically saved for parental review.

While there are many browsers, Safe Chat only allows the use of Internet Explorer while Safe Chat is engaged. If the parent wants to use an alternative browser (I personally use Firefox most of the time), a mouse click and password will allow the parent unfettered access to the internet. Recent versions of Internet Explorer have an integral “restricted sites” feature which prevents access to questionable websites, and Safe Chat prevents children from modifying that list. If by chance or on purpose a child happens to access an improper or adult site, Safe Chat will block the site by displaying a bright red “Sorry” rather than the illicit content. The parent can also control a list of safe or restricted websites by labeling them as safe or approved. If the parent wants to surf the web unfettered, a right mouse click and password is all that is needed to suspend the protections.

Many parents want to know explicitly what their children are doing online, and Safe Chat provides a parental notification function. One method used by Safe Chat is to send the parent an email every time the child connects to, or attempts to connect to a chat room. Emails can also be sent to the parents if someone attempts to enter a password in the parental controls settings panel informing them that access has been attempted.

Safe Chat is self protecting with a password protected uninstall process that prevents unauthorized people (children) from uninstalling the software. Passwords can also be set to control the loading of other chat utilities allowing for the selective use of such utilities. Some computer savvy kids may try to circumvent Safe Chat by booting the computer into safe mode, but Safe Chat is also fully functional in that mode providing continuous protection unless explicitly disabled with the password determined by the parent. If the parent wants to access restricted websites or software, Safe Chat can be deactivated easily by right clicking the mouse, and entering an enabling password.

Another issue for parents is control of internet access. Safe Chat provides a variety of control techniques such as scheduling chat times previously explained, or by preventing the loading of other applications at selected times. This is useful to the parent who wants to prevent the child from playing computer games while he is supposed to be doing his homework.

For people who like the idea of “try before you buy”, Safe Chat offers a free 14 day trial version at http://www.zihtec.com/en/download.html.

Since many adults at work are sometimes as irresponsible as children, there is an enterprise version of Safe Chat available for businesses to control employee access to the internet.

Safe Chat will run on most Windows computers and is compatible with Windows 98SE, 2000, and XP. It also requires that Internet Explorer version 5 or later is installed.

Protecting our children from online predators and inappropriate content is the responsibility of the parent, and many parents need help. Safe Chat may be a useful tool to help us parents protect our kids while they are online.

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