Web Watchers: Teaching Kids to Stay Safe Online

REDMOND, Wash., March 23, 2005 — Last month Microsoft, AMD and other leading technology companies launched Web Watchers, an Internet security and safety program that provides teachers in the U.S. with age- and curriculum-valid lessons to help students better understand the opportunities and risks of the Internet.

Kids generally find technology exciting and enjoyable, and are becoming increasingly adept at understanding and operating the mechanism that provides the rich experience they’re seeking — often with better results better than their parents.

Tracy Towne, a fifth-grade schoolteacher at Cedar Valley Elementary in Covington, Wash., has noticed that tendency herself. “My students know a lot about computers; it starts at an early age,” she says. “They use the computers to play educational games and write drafts of their reports.”

Perils of Wandering Alone

Cedar Valley Elementary students in Covington, Wash. play educational games and write drafts of school reports on classroom computers.

The Internet and its resources are set to become a foundation in the lives of today’s generation of children, the way their parents relied on the telephone. This is how they will continue to broaden their education, pay their bills, schedule appointments, plan vacations, chat with friends, and otherwise engage in their various communities. Yet there are perils associated with the Internet — the same as if a child were wandering around alone in a major city.

Consider that one in five Internet users younger than age 17 received an online sexual solicitation or approach during the past year, according to ProtectKids.org. Or that, according to USA Today, intruders seeking to “hijack” personal computers for illegal purposes try to break into unprotected PCs connected to the Internet up to 341 times per hour. And more than half of fourth- to eighth-grade students say they have been bullied online, according to a CBS 2 Special Report.

Web Watchers, a program directed at U.S. kids in grades three through eight, was created to bring awareness to children about the dangers of the Internet and what they can do to keep themselves out of harm’s way — such as how to help protect their identity online and how to avoid installing malicious software. Teachers such as Towne receive material including activity books, teacher guides and classroom posters. The key is to bring awareness to kids of the potential hazards of being online.

“Children must be taught the risks involved with being online and the steps they can take to help protect themselves,” says Anthony Salcito, general manager for Education at Microsoft. “Microsoft is committed to educating children to have a safe and secure online experience.”

Vote for a School Online

As part of the Web Watchers program, participating schools will be eligible to win US$1,000 or $5,000 for the purchase of new computer hardware and software as an incentive for students’ families and friends to take steps helping secure their PCs. Program material and more information on how to vote online for a school to receive technology funding can be found by visiting http://www.WebWatchersOnline.com. Voting is open until March 31, 2005.

Over 6,000 schools have participated in Web Watchers, which was a venture between Microsoft, AMD, which recently released AMD64 processors with Enhanced Virus Protection capability, and other companies who have made a similar commitment to computer security, such as McAfee, NetZero, Cox Communications, Comcast and The CyberSmart! Education Company. Parents and teachers can go to http://www.webwatchersonline.com for the most up-to-date educational tools for teaching kids how to help protect themselves from viruses, identity theft and even chat room bullies.

“Generally, they know they shouldn’t give out personally identifiable information,” says Towne about her students, “but I don’t think anyone has ever explicitly told them that before.”

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