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Check app downloads, parents urged

Parents are being encouraged to pay more attention to the apps their children download after new research found that nearly a third do not monitor the downloads their children make to their smartphones.

Internet Matters, the child internet safety organisation that was launched earlier this year by the UK's four largest web providers - BT, Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk, revealed that its latest study showed 29% of parents to primary school-aged children did not require them to ask for permission before downloading apps on to their devices, including smartphones and tablets.

Carolyn Bunting, general manager of Internet Matters, said: "There are over three million apps available and this number increases daily.

"Understandably, parents find it difficult to keep track of the apps that their children use. Many apps are great learning or entertainment tools but some may create risky situations for children and could put them in harm's way."

The Internet Matters site was created specifically to give parents information on all aspects of the internet, and the site confirmed it has now added a dedicated apps section.

"We want to encourage parents to talk about these issues and to help we have created a comprehensive App Guide for Parents on internetmatters.org," said Ms Bunting.

The site has created a five-point plan to help parents better protect their children from any malicious software that may lie in apps, including anonymous messaging services.

The advice highlights the need to not give children access to account passwords, as well as check the privacy settings on their device to ensure they are safe.

Educating youngsters about being vigilant, brushing up on apps knowledge yourself and helping youngsters create their social media accounts once they are old enough are also suggested tips for parents.

Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter both say in their terms of service that users must be at least 13 years old in order to have a profile.

Claire Lilley, head of child safety online at NSPCC, said: "For many young people, socialising on the move through mobile phone apps is part of everyday life. They can be fantastic resources for children and young people, but it's important that both parents and children are aware of the potential dangers. These can come from peers as much as they can from strangers.

"Risks for young people include cyberbullying, being exposed to inappropriate content, and grooming - where someone builds an emotional connection with a young person in order to sexually abuse them."

Internet Matters is pushing for greater digital engagement from parents after its findings noted that one in 10 parents with children aged five to 11 admitted they never checked what apps their children were using, with one in eight only monitoring mobile devices monthly.

Greater urgency is being sought as the digital revolution continues to take hold - computer coding has now entered the school curriculum for the first time.

The recent celebrity photo leak scandal has also brought more attention to the subject of mobile and general internet security, with many experts suggesting that a lot of security issues can be fixed simply by being more vigilant online, and making better use of passwords.

In the aftermath of the celebrity photo scandal, Rob Cotton, chief executive at web security experts NCC Group, said: "People often point the finger at technology when they've been the victim of a cyber attack, but poor password choices or naivety in the face of a seemingly innocent email is regularly to blame."

Parenting journalist and mother-of-two Holly Seddon said: "For the youngest two, I have their iTunes password. So to download a new app, they have to ask me. I check the price and details, but I also get them to describe it and say why they want it. I want them to learn to consider their purchases. We also have in-app purchases disallowed in the restrictions.

"I think it's essential to be mindful of everything they're accessing, just as you would films or TV shows they want to watch."

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