- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

Parents can put up a good fight to keep their children's electronic mailboxes clear of inappropriate bulk messages by using the available weapons.

Internet consultant Adam Boettiger of Portland, Ore., is the father of a middle-school student who is an avid Internet and e-mail user. He says the possibility that his daughter would be exposed to spam porn was a primary concern when he granted her e-mail access a couple of months ago.

Mr. Boettiger's precautionary measures were threefold.

First, he avoided obtaining a free e-mail account for his daughter.

"Those are Web-based e-mail where you have to log in to a Web site," he says. "They tend to have a lot of advertisements and tend to be huge targets for spammers, because they have millions of members. Instead, we went to a Web site www.enom.com and purchased a domain, or a personalized dot.com address, for her at a cost of about $29 a year."

At www.enom.com (or any domain registrar hundreds are available), he says, a parent can type into the search field any name the child wishes to adopt for his address.

"Say your daughter likes horses," he says. "It could be 'horsegirl.' If the domain is available, the registrar will tell you. So the domain would be www.horsegirl.com, and your daughter's e-mail address could be her initials at horsemail.com."

Second, Mr. Boettiger set up two e-mail accounts for his daughter.

"Have a public and a private one. The private account should be treated as you would an unlisted phone number. The public one can be used for everything else, such as registering for software, posting to a bulletin board or participating in online discussions. Right off the bat this splits your e-mail, as it comes in, into 'real' e-mail and 'everything else.' It also allows you to better manage your spam."

Third, Mr. Boettiger says he focused on educating his daughter about the Internet before she even began trading e-mail.

"I wanted her to understand the mechanics of how e-mail works," he says. "I downloaded some documents from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that talk about cybersafety and online predators and the dangers of giving out personal information in chat rooms or by e-mail. I told her that this is part of the rules before you can go online and have an e-mail account, and you need to show me that you understand them."

Mr. Boettiger designed a two-page contract outlining the guidelines and rules about Internet and e-mail usage, including that he and his wife will monitor their daughter's e-mail usage and e-mail.

"She accepts it as part of having the privilege," he says. "And we've made it clear to her that it's not an issue of not trusting her, but rather one of safety."

Mr. Boettiger's discipline has paid off.

"Through this combination of efforts, I've managed to control my daughter's spam," he says. "Is it blocked 100 percent? For now, yes. Will my tactics work for every single parent? It really depends on whether the three key factors are present: technology, strategy and common sense. There is no single solution. The key is to combine what's available. If my daughter's e-mail account were to start getting spam, I would simply add another layer and use a white-listing solution like Spam Arrest."

Spam Arrest (www.spamarrest.com) is a service, available for about $40 per year, that blocks spam by only accepting e-mail sent from verified sources.

Federal Trade Commission attorney Brian Huseman also recommends that parents set up several e-mail addresses one "public" and one "private" for their children.

"By putting your e-mail address out in public, it's more likely to get harvested," Mr. Huseman says. If users receive spam, he suggests they forward it to the FTC at [email protected]

"We set up this mailbox in 1998 and have received 20 million spam messages that people forward to us," he says. "We use them in law-enforcement investigations and share them with state and federal agencies. The goal is to find out scams that are out there and track people down and bring the case to court. You also can forward it to your Internet service provider, because they want to know about it. If it's unsolicited, it's costing them money and time."

In his post as vice president of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, John Mozena says he hears many complaints from parents who are concerned about the effect of inappropriate spam on their children.

"We're hearing about people who are looking at all their kids' e-mails before they read them, which becomes a source of contention as the kid gets older," Mr. Mozena says. "A lot of parents are doing what is called a white list, which means that any piece of mail sent to their kid that isn't from someone who has been preapproved doesn't get delivered. And many Internet providers are trying to come up with good interventions to protect their kids. Those are the two broad ways of doing it either inserting themselves into the process or inserting some technology into the process."

Robin Raskin a public speaker, author and consultant billed as the "Internet Mom" gives high marks to what she calls some "very decent" spam filters coming to the market.

"There are about 50 of them," she says. "They all work pretty much the same way. What they do is filter out spam based on the number of different criteria that you, as the user, can set up."

Microsoft Corp.'s just-released MSN 8, for example, is an Internet service provider offering parental control and personalization features, including filtering. Its safeguard comes in the form of an activity report that tells the parent about the child's online life, MSN marketing director Bob Visse says.

Another brand-new device is called Kindermail, offered by Kindershield Labs in East Syracuse, N.Y. Rather than relying on filtering technology (which looks for keywords), parents add approved senders to their children's e-mail address book; the program only delivers mail that has been preapproved.

The Web site of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children contains advice and information for parents about how to deal with inappropriate or threatening cyber communications. The center's Cyber Tipline offers a means of reporting incidents of child sexual exploitation, and the organization recently added a section on "Unsolicited Obscene Material Sent to a Child."

The Cyber Tipline can be reached by clicking on www.cybertipline.com or calling 800/843-5678.

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