A game attempt
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on April 20, 2007
Protecting children from sexual predators or even just age-inappropriate materials while online is one of the most vexing questions facing parents today. And given that the federal courts seem to value the rights of pornographers to make a profit more than they value the rights of U.S. children to grow up safe and whole (with yet another federal judge striking down Congress' attempt to put online porn behind the counter, so to speak, just a few weeks ago), finding software solutions to help parents provide a safe online experience for their kids is more of a challenge than ever.
Right here in San Diego County (in fact, in Escondido just a hop, skip and a throw from where I live and write this column), a local business is offering a kid-friendly browser that lets parents control what and who their kids interact with online.
Called "The Ultimate Kids' Internet," or TUKI, this IE-based browser and e-mail client is available for free (with various upgrades and service plans for sale) at tuki.com.
A friend who knows the owner turned me onto it, and while TUKI is still young and possessed of some rough edges, it is a promising effort to give parents more options for protecting their kids.
When you set up TUKI from the password-controlled parental login, you can create a TUKI\ desktop icon/account for each child in the family.
Once launced, the TUKI environment is kid-friendly in appearance and basic functionality. The user interface is bright, built around large icons and primary colors.
Like the talking paperclip from Microsoft's Office or the other characters from the long-abandoned Microsoft BOB operating system (a one-time in-house competitor to Windows), TUKI has a talking professor who dispenses advice from the desktop. (Although clicking on him seems to make him go away, which isn't very useful.)
But if you have Windows XP set up with individual accounts for each child in the family, you can lock down your system to make TUKI the only Web browser and e-mail client available to your kids' accounts giving you a lot more control over their Internet explorations than in default Windows mode.
Still working out the bugs
Among the problems?
Well, after you launch TUKI, it shows up as "3 CEN Browser" in your Windows toolbar. Odd, that.
More problematic is that while the interface and menus are bright and easy to navigate, there are still too many hoops to jump through to make this browser truly useful for younger kids.
Asking them to answer a security question ("What is the name of your favorite pet?") every time they send an e-mail doesn't seem to provide much in the way of real security (not when the parents can control their kids' buddy list, which are the only addresses they can send or receive mail to and from).
Somewhat annoying is the fact that you have to give up your name, e-mail and physical address and phone number to download the program. (Although it didn't have an e-mail verification, so I suppose you could simply lie when filling out the forms.)
Most egregious is that the default home page for the TUKI browser is Candystand.com. Look, nobody loves wasting time playing fun little Flash games on Candystand.com than I do but it's a commercial site loaded with advertising for, well, candy. It's the online equivalent of sending the kids to a major network Saturday morning cartoon. It's not the worst place to be but with outfits like the Children's Television Workshop (the folks behind "Sesame Street"), the Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress all having polished, entertaining and educational sites, it's odd that the folks at TUKI selected Candystand.com as the home page. (Point of interest: While the Children's Television Workshop site opened up fine in TUKI, as did the main Smithsonian page, the Smithsonian's kids page was not included on the approved list; it's at smithsonianeducation.org/students if you're curious.)
While there are problems with TUKI, there are some good intentions, good ideas and fairly solid foundation in place.
The design and layout are good; browsing, and sending and reading e-mail, are all intuitive and should be easy for all but the youngest in the family to use.
The parental controls are similarly straight-forward although your settings are stored on the TUKI server (you access them via your main browser), which raises obvious privacy concerns.
Still, there is much promise here and TUKI will undoubtedly be worth a future visit as it continues to develop.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
All rights reserved