BUSINESS
03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Learning About The Family Online Safety Institute

The brainchild of Stephen Balkam, the Family Online Safety Institute was created with the goal of finding "innovative solutions for family online safety." To achieve its goals, FOSI works with the Internet Content Rating Association, the world's leading content labeling system for the Internet, as well as schedules seminars and round-table events, such as its annual conference -- held this year at Washington D.C.'s Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center -- to spread its message of safety for children online. The focus of this year's conference is "Rights and Responsibilities: Child Protection in the Web 2.0 World." Balkam took a few moments out of his busy schedule to talk about the conference.

Tell us more about the theme of this year's conference. The title of the conference is "Rights and Responsibility." We start out by outlining our first amendment rights, and then talk about where those rights have taken us. "WWW" may as well stand for "Wild Wild West" these days, between the extreme porn, violent images... basically, every conceivable thing. We need to find balance between freedom and our sense of rights on the net.

What can we do? The government has got to lead. Additionally, Industry has to do more to innovate with new tech and offer greater services that are family friendly, and NGOs have to do more with parents, teachers, and the kids themselves -- all three are very different in approach. Last but not least, we've got to talk to the kids about taking more responsibility for themselves. When I was a kid, I would roam around the neighborhood and that was the way it was. Now, we don't let kids go outside as much -- so what they're doing instead is roaming online. We want to convey some new notions about safety. I mean, just think of how many kids are going to get iPhones for Christmas. And most parents are clueless.

Yeah, the mobile web is booming. So, we need to be aware of what kids are walking around with in their pockets. The situation is just spiraling, and people seem to be hungry for this high-level discussion concerning safety, whether they're education folks, regulatory people, academics, or think tanks. We went through a process last year -- a big review of our name and mission -- that led us to broaden our scope and reach, and to change our name. We've also added public policy, education programs and events to really raise awareness and begin the brainstorming process for solutions.

Which of the current crop of presidential candidates is most outspoken on the issue? Three that I would point out: John McCain has been pretty good. He's taken a down-the-middle approach, and we really respect him. Hillary Clinton has been very active, particularly about video games. She also links up with Joe Lieberman on this issue, but the person we are most enthusiastic about in terms of which to focus on is Barack Obama. I heard him speak on this subject a year ago at the Kaiser Foundation and he seemed to have a good grasp on the issues. Between those three, we're all very encouraged.