The internet is a fantastic resource for entertainment and many children use it to download music and movies. However, it can be all too easy for them to download and share content illegally.

Illegal downloading can have consequences your child might not know or understand, but as a parent you need to be aware of them.

If you are worried about the dangers children face online, Internet Matters, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to keeping children safe online, has lots of guides packed with advice.

What is file sharing?

To download illegally your child will typically use a peer-to-peer/file sharing network, this is when data is shared from one computer to others without using a server.  

File sharing websites use special software, so keep an eye for any unusual icons on their device.

Using file-sharing software isn’t illegal, but sharing copyrighted material through file-sharing networks without the copyright owner’s permission is illegal.

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Dangers of illegal downloading

1. It’s against the law: Illegal downloads have an adverse effect on revenue to the music and movie industry, consequently the entertainment industry takes illegal downloading seriously and monitors the web for signs of illegal downloading. If your child gets caught, you are responsible.

2. Dodgy downloads: If your child downloads from an illegal website there’s a chance they will inadvertently download viruses, bloatware, Trojan malware and worms. These can cause varying degrees of damage, from slowing down your machine to wiping data, crashing your device and encrypting your files and demanding money to repair it.

Read more: What is a computer virus?

How to keep your child safe online

Talk to them about the issues of illegal downloading and if they are old enough to understand, explain that it’s a form of stealing. Ask them what websites they use and research them to check their legality, visit Get It Right to find out more.

Warn children of the dangers of clicking on links, opening attachments and downloading from suspicious websites.

Install antivirus software on your computer. BT Broadband customers can use BT Virus Protect, which run in the background of a PC or Mac, monitors incoming files for viruses, Trojans and adware and warns if you visit a threatening websites. There’s also a version for Android phones.

Make sure you also switch on BT Web Protect, which protects against viruses, phishing and other online threats and works across all devices in your home.

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Check your child’s web browsing history to see what they’ve visited. They may know how to delete the list of websites, so if their browsing history is empty, it’s worth investigating as they could be deliberately hiding something from you.

Read more: How to check your child’s online web browser history.

Use Parental Controls, BT’s allow you to set filters and block file-sharing websites, you can also add illegal websites to your My Blocked list of websites.

Encourage your child to use legal websites. For instance they can listen to music free on Spotify and YouTube and buy it from Google Music, iTunes or Amazon Music, you can get them a gift card. If they are interested in movies, consider getting a subscription to Netflix.

Consumer electronics manufactures regularly release security updates, so make sure any devices your child uses have up-to-date software.

BT is supporting Get It Right, a Government-backed campaign to help reduced copyright material being shared without permission. BT will send a warning if copyright material has been shared using your broadband. Find out more.

For a comprehensive and easy-to-use resource of the most up-to-date information for keeping your child safe online, check out Internet Matters.