Friday, March 10, 2006

Site promotes itself as safe alternative for youths

Site promotes itself as safe alternative for youths
Emeryville-based Industrious Kid says it offers a choice besides popular Facebook and MySpace
By Blanca Torres
An Emeryville startup is planning to launch a Web site for children younger than 14 that aims to be a safe and entertaining alternative to social networking sites such as the Facebook or MySpace.
The company, Industrious Kid Inc., said its products and services will offer youth-appealing content that is "parent approved" as well as safety features not found on other Web sites criticized for giving pedophiles access to children.
"The Internet is really a vast open field, but there doesn't seem to be many destinations built with children in mind," said Tim Donovan, the company's vice president of marketing. "We're finding that with children, they just want to go online and talk to their friends."
Industrious Kid was founded by Jeanette Symons, a co-founder of telecommunications companies Ascend Communications and Oakland-based Zhone Technologies. The company, which was officially launched today, began operating in Emeryville last fall and now has 10 full-time employees.
Symons said the social networking site,, will go live within the next two months, and other products and features will be rolled out in the months that follow.
She said the site will have minimal advertising and most of the company's revenue will come from subscription-based products and services. The social networking part of the site, however, will be available for free.
The company's mission is to provide content that will stimulate and entertain youths who want to "engage, create, grow and benefit." The site will also appeal to parents because of its content and safety features, Symons said.
"There will be a number of different mechanisms for kids, a lot of it will have to do with identification of individuals as real people instead of just screen names," she said.
Industry experts were skeptical of both claims.
"The main proponent of Industrious Kid will be parents, and as we all know, parents are not hip," said Teney Takahashi, an Internet analyst with Radiacti Group, a market research firm based in Palo Alto. "I don't see kids ditching their MySpace site to join Industrious Kid at the request of parents."
Many sites have tried and failed to maintain secure Web sites for children said David Card, a senior analyst with Jupiter Research based in New York. Complying with the federal law known as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act makes it hard for companies to offer social networking for children.
"You have to work hard to protect kids online, and parents expect it and yet have not proven particularly willing to pay for it," Card said.
Sites like MySpace require users to be age 14 or older, and the Facebook allows only members affiliated with a school. MySpace, which has more than 50 million members, includes a page of safety tips that states, "If you're under 14, MySpace is not the place for you. Go away."
The warning is there, but that doesn't stop children from lying about their age to use the site, said Allan Kush, deputy executive director of WiredSafety, an Internet privacy advocacy group.
Without a credit-card payment system or something similar, "any other type of age-verification service would be clumsy," Kush said. "It would be difficult for any Web site to have any ironclad verification system that people would actually use."
Kush said the best defense for children is vigilant parents who keep track of whom children are communicating with online.
"From an educational perspective, I think the Internet is great, but from a personal perspective I think it's a lot of idle time to sit and talk to other kids," said Margie Giusti of Danville, who has three children at home ages 14, 12 and 11.
She said she is concerned about safety, but mostly whether the Internet is a good use of time. She keeps a close watch on her children's Internet usage, especially that of her 14-year-old daughter, who uses MySpace.
"We allow her a short amount of time on the Internet," Giusti said. "I don't let her just randomly stay on it, not because I don't trust her, but mainly because I feel it's nonproductive."

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