Call for better parental controls on mobile phones

child with mobile phone

A leading Government adviser has called for mobile phones to be fitted with improved parental controls to help protect children from potentially harmful online content.

Professor Tanya Byron warned that industry needed to accelerate its efforts to keep up with the advance of technology, and called for "less talk... more action" to keep youngsters protected.

Byron warned that children could now access adult sites with "extraordinary ease" particularly through mobile phones, and said it was vital for industry to agree a code of conduct that would ensure there were "safe places" online for children.

The TV child psychologist's recommendations came in a two-year progress report on the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), a body she led the way in setting up in September 2008.

Launching the report alongside Prime Minister Gordon Brown in front of 10 Downing Street, Professor Byron praised the work done by the UKCCIS saying it had made the UK a leader in online child safety but warned that efforts needed to gather pace, focusing mainly on internet safety on mobile phones.

"We have a huge number of under-aged children on social networking sites; we know that children who have Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phones can access the internet; we know that there are location-based devices; we know that there is an extraordinary ease of access to pornography for children and young people," Byron said.

"Speeding up, we need to see a code of practice for companies and providers, we need to really think about parental controls for mobile phones that can access the internet."

Byron wants to see the UKCCIS working with phone manufacturers to rethink the parental control system on mobile phones.

At present, controls can either be set up when buying the phone or by contacting a network provider's customer services department at a later date.

However, she said, many parents were simply unaware such controls existed, and often children were easily able to bypass or change them.

Instead, Byron suggests parental controls should be activated on the handset itself using a password. She is also calling for minimum standards for parental controls on games consoles.

"Let's have standards across the board, codes of conduct so that industry can say to parents and families this is what we are doing for your children on the sites and we can measure their success in doing that," she said.

With news emerging this week that a quarter of eight to 12-year-old internet users have profiles on social networking sites despite the sites in question having a minimum age limit of 13, Byron's report also called on the UKCCIS to become involved in these issues.

Speaking to the BBC, she expressed alarm that so many children were using social networks, and that their parents seemed none the wiser.

"How many parents know their children are on social networks? I think definitely it is very much about responsibility that starts in the home how we parent our children; how we talk to our children about being safe whether online or offline," she said.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls welcomed Professor Byron's remarks, hailing the UK as a world leader in tackling child internet safety but warning that hard work lay ahead if it was to remain that way.

"More young people are now accessing the internet on their mobile phones and games consoles, and as parents we need to manage the way our children are using these technologies," Balls said.