- Fears: The three-fold rise in the number of children using tablet computers has sparked concerns they will be able to bypass security filters (file picture)
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rising number of children are using portable tablet computers to access the internet without adult supervision, say experts.
The use of handheld devices such as iPads by under-15s tripled in the past year, sparking fears they are able to bypass parental safety filters by using public wireless networks.
A report by media watchdog Ofcom revealed that 42 per cent of children now use tablets, up from 14 per cent last year, while 28 per cent of children aged three and four use the devices at home.
The study also found that fewer parents have internet security measures installed on their household computers than last year, with just 43 per cent enabling ‘safe search’ settings on their browsers.
Campaigners warned that parents are struggling to keep up with their offspring’s use of technology, meaning they are less able to protect them from online dangers.
The statistics support the Daily Mail’s campaign for internet service providers to be forced to block unsafe material, with over-18s able to access adult material only following a strict age check.
The Government has agreed a compromise solution, under which all new broadband contracts will have filters turned on and existing customers will be prompted to make a decision about their service.
Miranda Suit, co-chairman of Safermedia, said yesterday: ‘Ofcom’s figures show the problem of dealing with the internet is still growing.
‘Parents have still not been able to catch up with their children’s technology skills and protect them adequately.
‘Children who use tablets are more easily able to use public wi-fi. Instead of sitting at the family PC they can just go to the local park or café. And lots of public wi-fi is unfiltered, meaning they can access whatever they want.’
She said she recognised the problems faced by parents. ‘The way children access the internet is getting more complex, and more difficult to monitor,’ said Miss Suit.
In a survey of 2,374 parents, Ofcom found that 64 per cent believed their online safety measures were effective. But half admitted their children knew more about the internet than them.
The report also found that children aged 12 to 15 have never met almost a third of the ‘friends’ on social networking sites, opening them to the risk of grooming and bullying.
On average, teenagers said they had 272 online friends, but had never met 78 of them. A third allowed their pages to be viewed by strangers, up from 22 per cent last year.
The Ofcom report warned: ‘Children with a social networking site profile that may be visible to people not known to them are more likely to have undertaken some kind of potentially risky online behaviour, such as adding people to their contacts they don’t know in person, or sending them photos or personal details.’