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Internet safety innovators win top award

Safe surfers Rory Birkbeck, left, and Aaron Sinclair have won a major tech award. Photo: Supplied.

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Keeping your kids safe online is now as simple as plugging a small device into your modem, thanks to a Tauranga organisation that has just won a major tech award for its efforts. 

Safe Surfer developed a new ‘Lifeguard’ device which can be attached to any modem and blocks websites containing pornography, violence, gambling and other harmful material.

Safe Surfer have just been named “Tech Innovator of the Year” at the 2018 NZ Charities Technology Awards, organised by Tech Soup NZ and backed by Microsoft.

Safe Surfer was established in 2016 by Tauranga IT experts Aaron Sinclair and Rory Birkbeck, who wanted to prevent their own young families from accidentally seeing pornographic images while using the internet.

Safe Surfer is now being used by over 300,000 individuals, families and businesses worldwide and the organisation is supported by a growing number of concerned parents and volunteers. Their new ‘Lifeguard’ device – developed locally at the end of last year – has beefed up protection even further.

“It’s a smart device which plugs straight into your existing modem to create a safe wireless hot spot within your home,” says Aaron. “You can use it to set time restrictions or determine what hours of the day your children are online. You can choose what material to block from 20 different categories and you can generate a report on all your internet traffic. It also enforces safe search options on Google and YouTube so pornographic material can’t be accidentally seen.”

Rory says the device also features a ‘stop/pause’ button which immediately shuts down the internet and takes all devices offline which is handy when it’s time for kids to do homework or go to bed.

“It gives parents peace of mind and control over what their children can see online. In many instances, pornographic material is hidden within seemingly innocent websites and kids can accidently stumble across it. But once they’ve seen it, it’s too late to erase those images.”

There is mounting concern worldwide about the dangers of viewing pornography from a young age. In New Zealand a 2017 Colmar Brunton poll confirmed 82 per cent of 16-18 year-olds have seen pornography and almost one third of New Zealand boys are watching porn several times a week.

Safe Surfer beat out two other finalists to win the coveted “Tech Innovator of the Year” award in Auckland before Easter. “It’s a wonderful acknowledgment of the hard work we’ve put in and the value we’re adding to our community. We’re really stoked to have won,” says Rory.

In addition to the ‘Lifeguard’ device, the Safe Surfer app can be used on smartphones. Several schools in the Bay of Plenty and Auckland are now encouraging parents and their students to download it onto their phones to provide a collective form of online protection for peer groups.

Safe Surfer is a social enterprise so people can choose to pay a one-off or reoccurring amount of their choice when they sign up so it remains affordable for everyone. The new ‘Lifeguard’ device can be purchased for either $79.95, $99.95 or $129.95 (or regular low cost monthly payments) depending on what people can afford. Costs have been subsidised thanks to generous grants from BayTrust and TECT to keep the technology affordable for families.

Meanwhile, the Android app has a free seven day trial period, then costs $1.99 per month to help fund the infrastructure. The iOS app is completely free thanks to a donation from a generous local business.

Around 300 ‘Lifeguard’ devices have been sold since January this year and shipping is now available worldwide.

To find out more about Safe Surfer visit www.safesurfer.co.nz.

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