With the latest version of its MSN internet access software, Microsoft is hoping to address the very real concerns of parents trying to police their children's use of the web. The company has built in a broad range of parental controls in an attempt to win over users who are worried about what their kids are viewing online.
This is a smart move if recent research by BTopenworld is anything to go by. The ISP's study showed that while more than half of the parents surveyed who had children aged between nine and 16 were worried about what their kids were exposed to online, 41 percent don't monitor their activities at all.
MSN 8.0 aims to ease the responsibility on parents by allowing them to filter out websites according to age-specific settings, block or limit a child's access to MSN Mail or Messenger, and receive weekly history reports on what sites their children have tried to visit.
Parents will also be able to see who their kids have corresponded with via email or IM (instant messaging), and the BTopenworld survey threw up some surprising results when parents were quizzed about this aspect of the net: 45 percent of respondents weren't bothered about their children chatting to strangers online.
To educate parents about the dangers this could pose, and to help them keep their children safe online, the ISP has launched a child safety guide at www.btopenworld.com/safersurfing.
For the US launch Microsoft has incorporated a Kids Search feature into its new software which draws on more than 600,000 prescreened sites appropriate for children. Plus there's a Kids Home Page option offering age-specific games, music, content and activities.
The software also includes a Kids Request Line feature, allowing children to ask permission from their parents, via email, to access web pages, email addresses or IM accounts they don't already have permission for.
But perhaps more significantly the software's new filtering capabilities occur at a network level, meaning that the restrictions are enforced on most other applications and web browsers.
As yet final details on the UK product are still under wraps.
Microsoft is working hard to promote its software as child-friendly in an attempt to take a bigger slice of the market from the most popular subscription-based internet access service AOL. Version 8.0 of the AOL software is due out soon and it too focuses on protecting younger surfers, but MSN will have its work cut out to catch up with the market leader.
MSN 8.0 is due for launch in the US on 24 October. The UK launch date has not been announced yet.