Report Suggests Online Threat to Minors Exaggerated

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - A new study released Wednesday by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force (ISTTF) concludes that Internet threats faced by minors may be exaggerated and also suggests the greatest threat to children may well be other children.

According to the study, "The risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline."

The study said minors encounter more sexual material in traditional mainstream media, such as television and films, rather than they do online.

Various news organizations, including Reuters and The Associated Press, reported the task force is also wary of age-verification technology and concluded lurking Internet sexual predators trolling social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are not as big a danger as online bullying.

According to the report, "Parents, teachers, mentors, social services, law enforcement and minors themselves all have crucial roles to play in ensuring online safety for all minors."

The study said no single approach will prevent threats to minors, parental scrutiny is essential and that Internet firms "should not overly rely upon any single technology or group of technologies as the primary solution."

From news commentaries to blogs, many have responded that ISTTF has merely stated the obvious, while companies producing age-verification technology also have taken issue with the report, calling it "unfocused," addressing "far too many non-SNS [social-networking site], non-technical issues."

The Internet Safety Technical Task Force was created last February by 49 state attorneys general to address sexual predators soliciting children online.

The Task Force includes executives from Facebook and MySpace along with representatives from other technology and media companies, including Yahoo Inc, Verizon and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL.

The study was paid for in part by companies including Microsoft Corp, AOL, MTV Networks parent Viacom, AT&T, Symantec, and Turner Broadcasting.

The findings are not binding, though law enforcement organizations will be reviewing the report.

The analysis was organized and published by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.