KidZui Extends Kidternet to Junior Penguins

Once upon a time, "Stranger Danger" involved shadowy men in trench coats lingering around playgrounds, leering and offering children candy. Now the threat comes from expert manipulators who are beamed right into our living rooms at 2.5 Mb/s, leaving plenty of parents terrified to let their children IM grandma, much less wander the back alleys of the internet alone. Among those riding to the rescue is the team behind the kid-centered KidZui browser — and now, they've extended their protective presence to the littlest Linux users as well.

Released in March 2008, the original KidZui browser is a standalone application available only to Windows and Mac users — a shortcoming remedied with the announcement this week of a cross-platform Firefox 3.0 extension. Aimed at children between three and twelve, KidZui provides "a fun, safe and engaging" way for kids to access the internet, while providing safety features that keep parents in control. Chief among those features is a password-protected zooming user interface that prevents KidZui from closing, allowing parents to attend to other tasks without worrying if their child has wandered into unapproved areas or deleted critical files. Parents can also view their child's comings and goings, as well as having reports emailed to them.

Parents have the ability to add individual sites to their child's browser — Grandma's bungee-jumping blog, for example, or the homepage of the local Yak Polo Association. There is a limited amount of carefully-controlled social networking, all monitored through parent accounts; kids can tag and share favorite content, make friends (with parental approval), and even have the opportunity to create their own avatars (the "Zui" in KidZui).

KidZui's method for providing safe content is somewhat unusual as well. Many other systems use filters to block content, which can fail to catch prohibited content while requiring constant updates as new unsafe content appears. KidZui doesn't block content — instead, a team of editors — specially-trained parents and teachers — vet individual sites for kid-friendliness according to KidZui's content policy. Once verified as kid-safe, sites are categorized by topic, developmental level, and reading ability, allowing parents to fine-tune what their children will be able to access. KidZui boasts over 1.5 million sites available through the service, with additional sites appearing perpetually.

Both the browser and the Firefox extension are free to download, but require that a parent register an account on — parents then create as many Zuis (child accounts) as they need, all of which can be monitored through the single parent account. The feature list for free accounts is fairly broad, though KidZui does offer a paid membership for $7.95 per month (and oddly, $39.95 for six months or $39.95 for one year). Paid members gain additional features including the ability to block individual sites and to view an unlimited history of their child's activity, while child accounts of paid members gain extra options for avatars, access to hidden features, additional options for social networking, and KidZui's Homework Helper.

While not a parent ourselves, we appreciate the difficult task parents face balancing the benefits and dangers of mixing kids and the internet. For our part, we applaud KidZui for its unique approach to keeping kids safe — and we raise that to an ovation for taking the initiative to extend that to all kids.

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