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05 Nov 2012
By Nick Ruddock
Nov
05
2012

A smart way to keep kids safe on their mobiles

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In June Telstra stopped the sale of a cyber-safety service called ‘Smart Controls’ after customers expressed concerns about the way data was collected.

This cyber-safety tool is designed to allow adults to choose the website categories kids in their care can access — along with other features.

We got the design of this component wrong and in the process we disappointed our customers.

Many customers have told us that, in principle, they thought the product was a good idea. Parental control software is broadly available for fixed internet services but Australian parents have few options for protecting their kids when they’re on smartphones.

However, many other customers told us that they did not want the network practices used to categorise websites for such a product applied to their mobile service if they had not opted in to the Smart Controls service.

We have now re-designed Smart Controls so that it operates as an entirely opt-in product. Customers must opt in and the mobile websites being classified are only from subscribers who opt in or subscribe to the service.

We’re seeking your views about introducing this revised product in late November. We are speaking to customers, government, consumer groups and child protection organisations to ensure we transparently explain our plans and how the revised product operates — this blog is part of this process. So if you have any questions about how this revised product is intended to operate, please feel free to ask us here.

The Smart Controls cyber safety management tool is designed to complement regular parental involvement in kids’ use of mobile phones by encouraging safe and responsible behaviour.

It allows parents to:

  • Block unwanted calls or callers – Manage a list of numbers kids can call, or be called by on their phone.
  • Set up a safe list of numbers and websites – Choose numbers and websites which can always be accessed, even when other calls or content categories are restricted.
  • Manage time spent online and making calls – Place time of day limits on web browsing and phone calls so they can better monitor kids’ use of technology
  • Choose the web content which can be accessed – Smart Controls allows parents to remotely prohibit access to mobile internet content such as adult or gambling websites or, alternatively, allow access to educational sites only.



Update, 29 November
Thanks everyone for your questions and feedback. Over past weeks we’ve discussed the re-design with many of you — along with a range of stakeholders. As a result of this process we have decided to introduce Smart Controls on an opt-in basis for our consumer mobile customers. We plan to start offering it next week. We hope it’s a useful tool for parents who are developing their kids’ digital skills and who regularly involve themselves in their kids’ use of the internet.

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Posts: 6

15 Comments

  1. Travis says:

    Glad that Telstra has apologised for it’s mistake with the initial implementation and but more importantly, not shelved it.

    It has a lot of merit.

  2. Johann says:

    Does this mean that I can now have my mobile phone *opted* *out* *completely* from having my web requests pass through Telstra’s proxy server?

    That would be the safest option for those customers who don’t want a repeat of the unpleasantness that was detected in June.

    • Johann says:

      Would someone from Telstra please answer this question?

    • Nick Ruddock says:

      Hi Johann, thanks for your question.
      Telstra’s proxy server is not involved in the delivery of the Smart Control’s product. Our proxy server supports important customer services including Telstra’s data usage meter, our My Plan Manager portal that lets you manage your mobile account from your phone, and the delivery of unmetered BigPond mobile content and these won’t work without the use of our Proxy Server. Smart Controls however, will be an opt-in product.
      Kind regards, Nick

  3. I personally think your in a catch 22 first you want people to buy a product from you, which should be free, and then you basiclly want them to give you permission to spy on the kids and “try” to keep them safe. Lets face it, while I see you want to help if a kid or anyone wants to get somewhere on the internet, they will get around any smart filter, smart safety etc what ever it is called it can be gotten around.

    Here a number of ways I know (since i work in IT) you could get around your filter.

    1) VPN – All smart phones allow you to set up a VPN and there are a number of FREE VPN servers in Australia and overseas.
    2) PROXIES – Again these are websites kids are able to visit type in the website they want to go to and again get through your system
    3) IP address – Shared servers often use the same IP address so while you might wish to block a bad site, you may end up blocking ABC Learning website as well just because they are on the same IP address or block of IP addresses that you are on.

    There is only one way to help our youth and kids from not doing the wrong thing online.

    EDUCATION!!!!!!!!

    The parents need to start talking to their kids about online safety, Telstra, Optus and all Telcos need to have a fund set up and put aside to education programs for all ages of schooling.

    It’s not going to be software, hardware or any type of firewall that will protect our youth and kids. It will be how good we are at scaring them to believe that the internet has some dangerous things on it, and we need to educate them on just what we can do to protect them.

    Us as adults are not firewalls we cant make bad things disappear nor can we block the web, you block one thing it will come back bigger and badder. So +Telstra your going about this all wrong. Its time to educate not firewall.

    • Nick Ruddock says:

      Hi Russell, thanks for your comment. We agree that technology solutions like Smart Controls are only one part of creating a safe online environment.
      Online safety involves the whole community and joint approaches deliver more effective.

      Telstra’s approach to cyber-safety comprises three elements:
      1) Tools – creating family safety controls and ensuring network security for our customers
      2) Education – creating and distributing educational programs and materials that better inform our customers and staff about cyber safety, empowering people to be safe digital citizens
      3) Partnerships – working with industry, government, the education sector and community organisations to deliver cyber safety outcomes

      We have a long-standing commitment to making the online experience safe for our customers and their families.
      For instance, Telstra was a founding member of the Virtual Global Taskforce, comprising police forces from around the globe working together to fight online child abuse.

      We also participate in reference groups including the Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s Cyber-Safety and Wellbeing Reference Group and Berry Street Charity’s ‘BeNetWise’ Reference Group.

      We manage a dedicated website with cyber-safety advice for our customers and have a cross-company Cyber Safety Council, providing a single point of co-ordination for all company-wide cyber safety activities.

      For the past five years, the Telstra Foundation has put a ‘spotlight’ on cyber safety, committing $3.3 million to eight projects that focused on helping children and young people develop the skills and knowledge needed to safely navigate the online world. The range of projects has included the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect’s Smart Online Safe Offline project, Berry Street’s BeNetWise program, Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s eSmart Accreditation for schools, Student Youth Network’s Websmarts project and Edith Cowan University’s Cyber Friendly Parents’ Project

      In 2012, the Telstra Foundation committed an additional $8million to a cyber safety partnership with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation to develop and deliver an e-smart libraries framework across Australia.

      We continue to working collaboratively with partners on cyber initiatives and we are keen to extend this work further in the future.

      Regarding the effectiveness of the web content blocking component of the product, we believe Smart Controls would be challenging to circumvent. The services includes a proxy blocking category that restricts access to URLs that allow subscribers to make use of proxy services. To ensure content is accurately restricted, the product blocks URI’s/URLs rather than IP addresses.

      Thanks again for your feedback,
      Nick

  4. Hi Nick,
    First let me say thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment, I have found a number of issues that your comment has created, due to my background in IT. I know that Telstra or any company that has worked in telecommunication for as long as Telstra has should be aware of.

    The first one is black and white.

    “To ensure content is accurately restricted, the product blocks URI’s/URLs rather than IP addresses.” – Nick

    This creates an easy way for app developers or anyone really to get around, lets face it, to visit twitter all I need is the IP address of 199.59.150.39

    Now all any kid / Youth needed to do to get that was PING the domain name or Google it “What is Twitter.com IP address”

    Now you can see how I could easily visit a Proxy site via a IP address and then just browse away.

    You also said the following “In 2012, the Telstra Foundation committed an additional $8million to a cyber safety partnership with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation to develop and deliver an e-smart libraries framework across Australia.”

    It does not matter how much money we give away, it does not matter who to, you could give it to the schools directly and we still would have this issue. the issue is not going to be solved by MONEY!

    The issue needs people that have been effected by these online bullys, online crimes and they need to be the face of this. Let’s look at it this way. You see police showing students video of crash victims and cars distoryed and having drivers who have killed people from being drunk on the road, all to protect and hopefully stop these kids from doing the same.

    While yes I agree its harder to do with Online crime, It was a little bit surprising that you but Education only 2nd on the list above.

    “Telstra’s approach to cyber-safety comprises three elements:
    1) Tools – creating family safety controls and ensuring network security for our customers
    2) Education – creating and distributing educational programs and materials that better inform our customers and staff about cyber safety, empowering people to be safe digital citizens
    3) Partnerships – working with industry, government, the education sector and community organisations to deliver cyber safety outcomes” – Nick

    Now let me poke a hole into 2) Education – creating and distributing educational programs and materials.

    Telstra needs to take a BIGGER stand then just creating content or distributing educational programs that you create, you really need to work with schools, youth, councils, and people that know about the damage that being online can do to kids and youths.

    I still believe that software is NOT the way to go, just look at the Government and there Net Nanny they have dropped it and now looking at other options like education to help kids and youths.

    “Over the last couple weeks the Australian government has decided to end the NetAlert program, which was set-up 18 months ago to promote” – Feb 2009 – http://www.netnanny.com

    So unless you can 100% tell me your software stops 100% of youth from doing something that they should not and that there is NO way around it, which I promisse you I could poke holes in it all day every day. I recommend that NO parent should buy this from Telstra or any teleco provider.

    Nick I would be interested in sitting down with you and chatting about this in person.

    A copy of this chat has been posted on my Blog.

    • TryHarder says:

      Hi Russell,

      I believe it is necessary to objectively discuss products or services being sold or offered as usually the hype is far higher than the reality. In this case I believe you are being unfair to Telstra. You have described way to get around the product they might bring back. To me that is the same as saying I can get around having to wear a seat belt so we shouldn’t have any and Toyota (keeping in the theme of vendors starting with T) should not charge extra for them.

      I do agree that the ultimate responsibility belongs to the parent to bring up their child in the correct way but.. as with a seat belt, a parent still would like other tools to help.

      If a child realy wants to get around something they will. For the other percentage, something like this will prevent “accidental” wanderings.

      In fact I am a bit confused where you say someone like Telstra cannot stop it but then say they need to do more in education.

      Honestly it seems to want to complain and as long as something is not 100% perfect, you will dismiss it.

      Education is not Telstra’s responsibility. If they can create or subsidise a tool that reduces problems for some people (not all) then , well at least they have done something. I don’t believe they “have” to do anything.

    • I am only going to focus on one part of your comment “Education is not Telstra’s responsibility.”

      Well blocking people from accessing sites is also not Telestra’s responsibility.

      I believe the government decides what we are allowed to view – look at games, movies etc and its up to police to enforce it.

  5. Russell says:

    Johann, we would always go through Telstra servers since its how we get to the public Internet. Now you can use another DNS server but all that does it get the IP address of the site you want to visit.

    The only true way to by pass Telstra servers is not to use Telstra.

    You could try a VPN but you will still be sending encrypted data through Telstra servers, there is no way to stop Telstra watching what your doing online. I hope that helps

    Note I don’t work for Telstra. But have worked in the IT industry for 11 years. Recently lost job at TeleChoice due to project ended.

  6. David says:

    Hi,Smart controls is a good idea especially if parents have access via computer to control not only the web sites able to be accessed but also the times access is possible eg. Turnoff phone and internet access after 10 pm.completely !!

  7. Karena says:

    Is this purchase also able to block messages from a certain number ? I am aware it an block incoming calls just hoping it can do the same for messages.

    • Gigi [Telstra Staff] says:

      Hi Karena,

      The product doesn’t currently block text messages but we expect to introduce this feature midyear.

  8. Liz says:

    I would like to thank Telstra for an easy to use system that allows us (the paying customer) to control our teenagers use of the Internet to a) avoid Facebook b) allow them to attempt sleep c) avoid bills that are over their cap and d) exercise our right as parents to control what they access. This has put our minds at ease and hopefully as our teenagers mature – we can lift the different restrictions! Obviously some people that have issues regarding restricting access to certain websites etc have no experience with this very dangerous and harmful issue.

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