Internet Chat Room

Reporter: Jackie Quist

Internet chat rooms are an online phenomenon -- the fastest growing destination for kids using the internet, with over 45% of Australian 12 and 13 year olds now using online chat rooms to talk to friends.Olivia and Jack Rudich are no exception, but this harmless bit of fun can be fraught with danger -- chat rooms have become a hunting ground for predators masquerading as kids."The problem is there are people out there who want to get to your children and that's a very scary thought", said software designer Fraser Larcombe.

Fraser was concerned enough to devote the past three years to developing a software package called "Chat Alert", a program that allows parents to monitor their children's chat room activities. "It actually looks at the whole conversation. We don't work on a sort of simple dictionary word where its just picking up, its looking for the whole conversation and building up a plan -- you know where is this conversation going. There are actually three warnings on there, a low, medium and high. We alert with an a b or c: A alerts that we're watching, b a dog pops up on screen and actually stops the conversation and c actually closes the computer down", Fraser said.

Vince and Tracey Rudich say its impossible to police Olivia and Jack's online activities all the time. They installed "Chat Alert" several weeks ago and say its a winner. "Most def most definitely I think its a very user friendly program. I think its something that I think helps to change the behaviour of the child -with the little warning, the little dog that pops up and says watch what you're typing, I noticed that the language started to change with Olivia, She was conscious of what she was writing and I think that's a start", Tracey said.

"It doesn't matter where they are in the world -- worse case scenario, if that paedophile is part of a paedophile ring they will still groom your child. If we're talking on a world wide chat site, in an Australian chat room we can normally get groomed within 5 - 10 minutes", Fraser said. "It is sad, terribly sad and you're taking away a little bit of their independence in that way, but we need to protect our children", Tracey said.

The software can be downloaded from http://www.chatalert.com.au/ at a cost of $49.95