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Kids' Net Access Gets Close Scrutiny From Symantec

Symantec is developing a Web-based service that will let parents control almost all aspects of their child's Internet activity from anywhere in the world.

The rising use of instant-messaging programs and social-networking sites by children has posed new challenges to parents seeking to prevent kids' access to inappropriate content or contact with creepy online adults.

A demo seen by IDG on Friday showed the application gives parents sweeping control over their child's activity.

It can be configured so a parent must approve adding a new person to a buddy list on an instant-messaging program. Search terms can be monitored as well as content posted on social-networking sites.

The application doesn't have a formal product name as of yet, said Con Mallon, product marketing director for Symantec's consumer division in Europe, on Friday. Symantec is terming it a "family online safety" program rather than the more negative term of "parental control."

Symantec plans to emphasize that parents and their children can collaborate on the limits they want to set for Internet access, Mallon said.

The program is Web-based and can be access through a Web browser, so parents have control even if they're not at home. After logging in, parents can click on a tab labeled "news" and see a list of recent actions by their child.

Those actions can include the creation of a new profile on MySpace, the last person the child sent an instant message to, a transcript of that conversation, the Web sites the child has either access or tried to access and the length of time online, among other metrics.

A client program must be installed on the PC the child uses, and actions done by the child on another PC can't be monitored, Mallon said.

Symantec hasn't decided how to market the program just yet. It could be wrapped into one of the company's security suites or sold as a stand-alone subscription service, Mallon said.

The application was rolled out within the last two weeks for Symantec employees, Mallon said. It will then be offered on a forthcoming Web site called the "Incubator" that Symantec plans to launch within the next two months.

That Web site will host programs that are "two steps before beta" for the public to test, Mallon said. After that, the family online safety application will go into beta, he said. A commercial release is planned before the end of March 2009.

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