Study: European kids fearless in downloading

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BRUSSELS -- Children are well aware of the risks of illegal downloading, at least on a theoretical level, but often minimize or question the illegal character of the act, according to a major European Commission survey released Friday.

The children surveyed often rationalized their downloading by saying that everyone does it. Many also pointed to downloads made by their own parents as an implicit form of authorization.

Other excuses included: the fact that the download is for personal and private purposes; that the Web sites presumably remunerate the artists; that claims of harm inflicted on artists lack credibility; and that DVDs and CDs are simply too expensive for children to afford.

Almost all of the children surveyed said that they expect to continue downloading. They also said that the risk of downloading a virus was far more dissuasive than the risk of legal proceedings.

The survey found that most kids use the Internet several times a day and, while Internet use is to some extent limited by parents, most own their own mobile phones, the use of which is largely unsupervised.

The survey also found that children are much more attuned to potential online risks such as security, viruses, identity theft and potential dangerous contact with strangers than parents imagine, and tend to be well aware of the precautions they need to take. The children highlighted viruses, online scams, talking to strangers in chat rooms and cyber-bullying as the most common online risks.

A few children nevertheless admitted that they have engaged in risky behavior and some even acknowledged that they had had contacts with strangers. But even though young people know about the risks and precautions, most would rather try to solve the problem themselves or with friends, and would talk to their parents only as a last resort.

The survey, carried out in the 37 European Union member countries -- as well as Norway and Iceland -- found that the most popular Internet activities for children between the ages of 9 and 14 are games, surfing and communicating with friends by e-mail or messaging.

Girls 12-14 years of age stay online longer, and spend most of their time on social networking sites. Boys mainly use the Internet for downloading and playing games and music, but those ages 9-10 are more inclined to search for information related to schoolwork on sites such as Wikipedia and the BBC.

"It is encouraging to see Europe's youth embrace digital technologies so confidently," EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said. "At the same time, these survey results underline Europe's need for proactive online media education. We must also continue to raise awareness about the opportunities and risks of new media, especially among parents."
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