A Scottish company has released a virtual age and identity card which is intended to keep children safe while they’re surfing the net. The technology has been launched in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, and can be swapped by children online when using chatrooms, instant messaging and social networks. Parents and children are able to apply for the card using credit card details, along with a form countersigned by a professional who knows the child concerned. It is hoped that the card will be used by children to help prove that they are in fact children and not adults pretending to be children. It currently costs £10 a year, and is known as the Net-ID-me.

The card was thought up by UK businessman Alex Hewitt, who decided to work on it after finding that his daughter could only verify the age and identity of a third of her friends she had online.

Hewitt admits the system is not foolproof, but argues that online predators will baulk at requests for ID. The system is also promoted as a means to deter online bullying. Users are advised to report suspected abuse of the system to the police. Cards issued will give limited personal information about a child user (name, age, gender and general location).
The card has attracted its share of criticism already. Of course it is a good idea, but has been accused of being hard to get hold of, and might lead to parents thinking that they don't have to monitor their children's Internet activities any more just because they have one. Nevertheless, it is a positive step in the right direction.