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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Internet Safety Hazards

This past Christmas brought both of my kids into the "iPod" age - both getting iPod Touch's as gifts.  They really are very cool devices (I want one now) but, as I've discussed in other postings, they introduce a new realm of safety concerns, as do the latest video game consoles for your television.

I came across this article today that discusses some of these hazards.  This is nothing new, I've discussed about 75% of what this article says in past postings.  But what was very useful about this particular article is that it summarizes many of the points I've made in various postings and offers some great links to helpful websites (like parental controls for Playstation and Wii and helpful suggestions about iPod's and iPhones).  Here's an excerpt from the article:


"

Even if you have parental controls set on your home computer, your kids may still be at risk from Internet safety hazards with all of the products in your home that are connected to the Internet.
Surprisingly, your child may now get connected to the Internet through their:
  • iPod Touch (via WiFi)
  • iPhone and other smart phones
  • Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite (via WiFi)
  • Nintendo Wii
  • Sony Playstation 3
  • Sony PSP (via WiFi)
Again, that can be fun, offering kids access to online games and multiplayer online gaming, but it also allows them to chat with people and some include a web browser. Although parental controls are available for most of these devices, the average parent who doesn't use the device himself isn't likely to think about turning those controls on.

Before getting one of these devices that is Internet-ready or hooking up an Internet-ready gaming system to your home Internet network, be sure you know how to turn on any available parental controls:
What about parental controls for the iPod Touch or iPhone? Unfortunately, there really aren't any yet. You can go to Settings > Restrictions, enter a passcode and then set restrictions to access:
  • iPod songs with explicit lyrics
  • Safari
  • YouTube
  • iTunes
  • Installing Apps
  • Camera
Unfortunately, except for the explicit iPod settings, these are strict restrictions to the use of these applications and not filtering. For example, restricting Safari means that you can't use the web browser at all, which removes many of the more useful features of the iPhone or Internet-enabled iPod Touch. 

The iPod Touch is likely still a good choice for kids to listen to music, play games and use other applications, but until there are better parental controls, it might be safer to set the restrictions and leave its WiFi Internet connection off (and don't give your kids the password to your home WiFi network if you have one).

"

The link to the entire article is: http://pediatrics.about.com/od/safety/a/109_intrnt_sfty.htm

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Facebook - Getting Safer for Kids but....

Facebook announced yesterday that it is stepping up efforts to protect children who use their social networking site.  My first thought is "it's about time."  Shouldn't these measures have been part of the initial architecture?  But I don't want to be negative and I have to say that this latest effort is definitely a step in the right direction.

Facebook teamed up with 5, well known and highly respected child safety advocacy groups to form an advisory board that will help them steer the future direction of Facebook so that it is safer for children.  Making up the advisory board are Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely, WiredSafety, Childnet International and the Family Online Safety Institute.  Along with the formation of this board, Facebook also launched some new features that increase privacy on individual pages and postings.  You can read about it in an article on CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/12/07/facebook.security/index.html.

I think this is great news and I also have confidence that with organizations like WiredSafety and Common Sense Media on board, they will eventually head in a better direction and make improvements that truly protect children by giving parents some control.  However these latest privacy features that Facebook launched along with the announcement of their new advisory board demonstrate that the people at Facebook don't really understand the problems associated with keeping kids safe online.  Why?....because these latest features DON'T give parents control.

Among the latest safety and privacy features launched by Facebook are mechanisms that allow the Facebook user to be very selective about who sees the content they post on their site.  It even goes so far as to allow certain content to be visible to a select group of "Friends" while keeping it hidden from other friends.  In other words, you can set levels of trust within your friend list and then publish different content to different groups based on this trust level.  Sounds pretty cool right?  The problem is that it still relies completely on the judgment of the user.  This isn't a tool that allows parents to make the decision about who sees what.  This tool allows the user him/herself to make that decision.  If that user is a child, then what have we really accomplished?  The best a parent can do is say "make sure you are careful about what you let people see on your Facebook page."  How is that any better than saying "make sure you don't go to any pornography websites when we aren't looking?"

For a feature to be truly protective of children, it has to put the power to control access in the hands of parents and/or teachers.  What Facebook needs to create is a way for parents to set up pages for their kids, monitor those pages, filter objectionable content, and control who sees what.  Only then will the site be truly safe for kids.

So while I applaud Facebook for creating the new advisory board, I am critical of their new privacy features.  I hope that having these great organizations as advisers finally steers them in the right direction.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Content Filtering App for iPhones and iPod Touch

For those of you that have heard the word "App" (as in the "there's an App for that" commercial) but aren't sure what it means, an App, short for application, is just a small program that runs on mobile devices.  Many apps are games, some are as sophisticated as GPS software and others are as simple as a cool looking clock.  There are Apps that do almost anything from calculating tips to translating words and phrases to other languages.

A company called InternetSafety.com has created an App called "Safe Eyes Mobile" that allows parents to filter the content that their children see when surfing the web on their iPhone or iPod Touch mobile device.  If you weren't aware that they could get to the internet on these mobile devices, see my posting from November 18th.

The tool has mixed reviews. The primary complaint is that it is difficult for parents who are not tech savvy to operate.  But keep in mind that it is in it's infancy and will probably evolve into something better in the future.  After all, what good is an App aimed at parents if parents can't operate it.  I think the App is a great sign that the industry is finally taking internet safety on mobile devices seriously.  Hopefully that trend will continue.

You can check out a good review on the product by the LA Times here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/03/appiphilia-safe.html

Or you can go to the Safe Eyes product website itself here: http://www.internetsafety.com/safe-eyes-mobile-iphone.php

Thursday, December 3, 2009