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Is online safety foremost in the minds of people buying the new rash of low-cost tablets?

By Tim Mitchell on 17 Dec, 2013

So now you can buy a tablet in the UK for £30, with the launch of the UbiSlate 7Ci. £30 ... and just in time for Christmas!

This follows a rash of new launches designed presumably, to get everyone online everywhere. Tesco kicked it off with the launch of 7in Hudl at £120 and acknowledged by many reviewers to be the best of the low-cost bunch. Aldi then sold out of its 7in £80 Medion Lifetab shortly after its launch. Then, Argos jumped on the tabletwagon with its £100 MyTablet.

Given the commodity pricing attached to this new breed of Android devices, I think it's reasonable to have some concerns around their usage and no doubt you've guessed what these are, given that this is an online safety website.

First, how many people who spend such a small amount of money on a device are going to bother with antivirus/antispyware protection? It's like using a hand-held mobile phone while you're driving when you can pick up an effective hands-free device for few quid. According to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report attacks on mobile devices in April... attacks on mobile devices were up by 58% in 2012 over the previous year. Just under a third of these attacks were intended to steal data without the user’s knowledge, with Android – which has a 75% share of the global market – still the most targeted platform. And all of these new low cost tablets run on which platform ... exactly?

So however little you pay for a tablet, spend what you can on an internet security app to avoid becoming a victim of one of the myriad of viruses and other nasties out there.

Then there are all those new users who are going to benefit from the convenience and coolness of using their tablet in cafes, pubs and bars. How concerned are they going to be whether the WiFi hotspot is secure or not? How will they know? And are will they be diligent about who's 'shoulder surfing' them? 

Our advice: if in doubt about the security of the hotspot, don't do any banking, shopping, communicating or suchlike where you have to enter your private or personal details. Be conscious of who's behind you. And never leave your device by itself, or flaunt it when you're out and about.

What about the physical safety of the device? It's uber-portable, right? Not just by the owner, but by some opportunist thief walking by in the park. It's "only" £100, so does it really matter? In this age of easy-come, easy-go maybe not, but it's the stuff on the device itself that might cause more of a problem, especially when 38% of tablet users don't have a PIN on their device (source: GSO-commissioned research, October 2013).

Advice: as previous point.

But the aspect that concerns me most is that of children's safety online. Many of these devices will be purchased as gifts, and without (a) some kind of parental controls and (b) parents working closely with their kids to understand the latest trends in social networking, instant messaging, gaming etc ... they could represent a portal to exposure to inappropriate material, fraud, bullying and so forth.

Tablets should be regarded in the same way as the 'family computer' of old ... online is online and everything that goes with it. There's some great advice about safeguarding kids online here.

I'm not trying to scaremonger here, just put across the message that with affordability should come responsibility.