Child email tracking – Does it work?

Kid-e-mail

Wouldn't it be good if parents could track who their children are emailing.

That's the promise behind Kid-e-mail which launches as a free service in the UK this November. It says it can offer parents a huge swatch of information on who their children are communicating with.

On its website Kid-e-mail says it can gather some or all of the following information: email address, IP address, date and time of opening, how long the email was open for, the browser used, the language used, client software and ISP etc.

Also "in all but the most extreme cases the unique address of the recipient's machine" will also be provided.

A neat trick, especially when you consider anyone using a dial-up connection almost certainly won't have a unique IP address. Kid-e-mail also says this information is gathered "regardless of the settings on a person's machine".

How?

Milton Keynes-based Advanced Ability, the developer of Kid-e-mail, isn't disclosing how it works. We can't figure out how the technology would work effectively - except in conjunction with a limited number of clients. Anyone help us out, here?

Kid-e-mail routes email through its servers and reformats it as a HTML email with the organisation's logo (which might act as some kind of deterrent) and a call to a perl script - or similar - on Kid-e-mail's server.

This would mean that the ploy would work only if the recipient is using a mail client that defaults to HTML mail and runs scripts without asking you. Yes, take a bow, Microsoft 'Outlook' - this one's for you.

Recipients using many clients, or perish the thought, non-Microsoft machines, will likely go untracked. We infer that this is what Kid-e-mail means when it talks of "deliberate use of sophisticated and expensive software and hardware techniques, which are for the sole intention of 'hiding' a PC when it is on the Internet".

Kid-e-mail is free, so let's remove any thought that Advanced Ability is seeking to profit from parental concern about child abductions in the UK, in the wake of the disappearance (and subsequent murder) of Milly Dowler in March, and the murders of Holly and Jessica last month.

You can also argue that pedoes will be deterred from responding to Kid-e-mail-headed emails, even if the technology is less effective than presented.

However the West Midland Police is endorsing the technology and is conducting trials, the BBC reports . This gives us cause for concern. In the current political climate, we can expect to see more companies seeking to soothe parent's understandable fears with technology of dubious effectiveness. ®

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