Online security and privacy for children is not exactly a new thing.  There have been plenty of cases of so called ‘grooming’ by some very nasty people where kids have been lured to their untimely deaths.   All parents should know about this kind of thing, as I said, its not new.

Close to home, there have been a couple of murders in Oz where girls have gone off to meet up with one of their Facebook friends only to turn up very dead.  One was last year (I think) and there was another this week.

The girl this week was 18 years old.

We were having a chat about this with the girls – being responsible parents, we try to educate them into not giving out their real names on-line, never telling anyone their address or any personal details etc.  They have several accounts on various child gaming sites (I’m not saying where, for obvious reasons) where they are under strict instructions only to invite and chat with people they actually know in real life.  No virtual friend collecting, no matter how nice they may sound.

Common sense, right?

We found out that several of their friends managed to open their own accounts and have many hundreds of friends, totally unsupervised or where parents know, but just don’t care.  Unbelievable.

Worse still, when discussing this latest murder, we find out that several of Jay’s little-un’s nine-year old school friends have Facebook accounts with full support of their parents.   Nice – especially as the sign up terms and conditions make it clear you have to be 14.

Compounding this, one of the schoolfriends has over 700 ‘friends’, but ‘its okay, she knows them all’  Apparently her parents were ‘very responsible’ and closed their accounts when the murders happened.

Oh yeah, really responsible.  Gate, horse, bolted.

How can a responsible parent allow a child to have their own Facebook account (with all the adult content that’s on there) and then collect 700 ‘friends’??

I’m utterly stunned.   Parents should know better

Perhaps we’re too strict and keeping the girls from some valuable social interaction, but given the very real risk, as small as it might well be, I don’t care.  They’re not having a Facebook, MySpace, Beebo or any other account until they are old enough under the terms and conditions and also in their maturity to know whats sensible and whats not and to know who they are adding as friends.

And thats a very long way off yet.