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Monday, December 13, 2010

A Parent's Guide to Facebook

 I saw an article on last week about a new "Parent's Guide to Facebook" offered by  I took some time to download and read though it...not too bad, especially since there isn't much fort parents available in this space.

The guide was written by Anne Collier and Larry Magid, Internet safety advocates and co-directors of ConnectSafely, which published the guide in conjunction with the iKeepSafe Coalition, a national partnership of governors, attorneys general, health and education professionals and law enforcement promoting safe technology use.  The guide covers such topics as safety, privacy and reputation protection when using Facebook.

It's no secret how I feel about Facebook and how dangerous it can be for children.  So here you go, another resource in your ongoing effort to keep your kids safe online.

Download the guide here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Good Article About Ongoing Safety Efforts

Sorry for my lack of posting lately.  My real job has me extremely busy.

Here is a good article from USA Today's website that talks about some ongoing efforts by a few tech companies around keeping kids safe online.  You will probably recognize a couple of these items as I have already written articles about them.  Here is the link:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Parent's Plan

Thanks to the great folks at St. Teresa in Price Hill for having me speak last night.  During the discussion I suggested that given the incredibly difficult task of trying to keep up with all of the technologies that children are using, parents best bet is to come up with a plan.  No one could possibly know everything and no matter what you do know or do, you will never be able to account for every possible risk your child faces online.  But doing something is far better than nothing and you have to start somewhere.  An online safety plan is a good place to start.

Here is what I suggest:
  1. Take an inventory of every connected device in your home.  This will include the following:
    • Internet connected computers
    • Cell phones (smart phone or regular cell phone)
    • iPods/iPads
    • Video game consoles like PlayStation, Wii, XBox, etc.
    • Televisions (yes televisions.  Newer model TVs have internet capabilities built in)
  2.  Figure out how your children are connecting.  I'm not talking about what devices they are using, we addressed that in step 1.  I'm talking about the software and services your children use to connect.  This might include the following:
    • Facebook/MySpace
    • Twitter
    • Skype
    • Search engines
    • Chatrooms (video game chatrooms included)
    • Instant messaging (like AOL messenger)
    • Foursquare
    • etc.
  3. Learn about what protection is available for the devices, software, and services your children use to connect.  Google is a good place to start.  Pick any topic like "iPods" and perform a Google search on "iPod Parental Controls."  Most likely you'll find information on protection strategies for each device/service.  If you can't find information on Google or other search engines, try searching this blog.  Chances are I've written articles about most devices/services.
  4. Ask Mike.  I'm not kidding.  What drives this blog is parents needing information on specific devices, services, or strategies for protecting their kids.  I am always happy to answer your questions and even do some research if you need more information. 
  5. Talk to your kids.  Explain two things: the dangers associated with each device/service they connect with AND your expectations around their conduct with each service/device they connect with.  Talk about offensive content, sexual predators, cyber-bullying, and potentially illegal activities (like taking pictures of other kids and broadcasting them to a group of people).  If you don't know all the dangers associated, then learn about them. 
You don't have to be a technology expert to start down the path of protecting your kids.  Just follow the plan above and you will be miles ahead of where you would be if you did nothing.  Don't sit back and do nothing.  Don't be "that parent"...the one who resigns to "I don't know anything about computers so there is nothing I can do."  Your children deserve more and it's no one's responsibility but your own.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Now Available on Amazon..."A Pedophile's Guide"

No kidding!  This article appeared on MSNBC today.  Apparently Amazon is selling a guide book for pedophiles on how to conduct "child love" correctly.

Don't get too mad at Amazon yet.  Anyone can list a self made book (which is what this is) on Amazon through Amazon's Marketplace.  The thing to watch is whether or not Amazon will remove this item.

UPDATE:  Amazon pulled this item yesterday afternoon.  Good for them. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Xbox 360 Kinect...Voyeurism Advances to the Next Level

Christmas is coming up and there is a lot of hype about how cool the new Xbox 360 Kinect device is. But before you ruin out and buy one for your kids, get the facts.  For those of you who don't know what this "add on" for the Xbox is, I'll explain.

The Nintendo Wii revolutionized home video gaming by introducing motion/position based controllers.  Instead of moving a joystick and pressing buttons, you simply waved around a small remote and the system would pick up your movements and translate them into actions within the video game.  Since Nintendo pioneered this wildly popular technology, other game system manufacturers have been scrambling to catch up.  Sony just came out with their "Move" device for PlayStation that copies the Wii functionality and now Microsoft upped the ante with Kinect.  Kinect provides Xbox users with motion-based gaming functionality like the Wii and PlayStation devices but it does so in a very different way.  Instead of a system that monitors the motion of a small hand-held remote, the Kinect watches YOU and monitors your movement.  The Kinect is an advanced camera device that sees in 3D, binocular vision like you and I do, and also tracks you via infrared and listens to you with a super-sensitive microphone.  Technologically it is very cool and it will definitely take video gaming to new levels, but at it's core, this device is a webcam.

So what's the big deal about hooking a webcam up to an Xbox?  The truth is that you've always been able to hook webcams up to the Xbox.  In the past, a webcam was just an extra - you didn't really need it to play any games.  A few gamers hooked them up and used them but most people didn't.  The Kinect is going to come with a whole new generation of super cool games that every kid will want.  Among it's other features, the Kinect IS a webcam...and it's always on as long as the Xbox is on.  In the past, your children could chat with or even talk to complete strangers while gaming on the Xbox.  Now they can video chat with complete strangers as well.  Kinect comes with Skype software that gets installed when you hook up the device.  So it's not only a webcam to use while gaming, it's a webcam they can use whenever they want.  Skype can be dangerous for kids (read my article from Sept. 17 here) and is definitely something that parents need to monitor and control.

I honestly don't know as much about Kinect as I'd like to.  I don't own an Xbox and therefore can't test it thoroughly.  My hope is that Microsoft has planned ahead for this potential security and privacy risk for kids and have good parental control features built in.  Xbox's parental controls are ok though not great.  I've read numerous articles on how cool the Kinect is and how high the quality of the webcam is, but I haven't seen anything about parental controls.  If anyone has any info on this, I'd be very interested to see it.

I am certainly not saying to avoid buying this product.  On the contrary, I think it could be a very cool, fun thing for kids.  Anything that gets kids moving is a good thing right?  What I am saying is what I always say to parents:  don't just give this to your kids and walk away.  This is technology...potentially dangerous technology...that you need to monitor and control.  If you want to provide this to your children, it's your responsibility to learn about it so they can operate it safely.

Here is a link to Microsoft's Kinect website:  They do mention "advanced parental controls" but they don't really describe them.  Hopefully that's forthcoming.  Here is also a summary description of the Kinect device from Gizmodo's website:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Finally...A Way to Monitor Pictures and Video On Your Child's Phone

Thanks goes to my brother-in-law Scott out in Utah who caught the release of this product two weeks ago and filled me in.  I would have hated to miss this one.

Mobile Media Guard from Parental Solutions LLC is the first smartphone app that actively monitors your child's Android or Blackberry phone and notifies you about and lets you look at every picture or video they take/record, send, and receive.  This app fills a huge void in phone-based security and safety for kids and I am very excited that someone finally got around to creating it.

Think about how much trouble an unsupervised child can get into with a camera on a cell phone.  We've all heard the stories on the news about sexting - some teenage girl has nude or semi-nude pictures of her taken "somehow" and they "somehow" get distributed to everyone.  Yeah, I know what you're thinking...what are teenage girls doing taking nude pictures of themselves (or allowing others to do it) with their phones?  It happens daily, in fact, few counties in the USA have been spared such incidents.  The point is, kids don't always make the best choices and unfortunately, the result can be permanent damage to their reputations, privacy, and sometimes safety.  I had a mother e-mail me last week about a problem in her child's school in Eastern Pennsylvania.  Apparently junior high aged kids are having great fun taking pictures of their classmates while they are changing or going to the bathroom before/after gym class and sending them to everyone they know.  The worst part is that by the time parents find out, it's already been happening for months.

Until now, parents have been extremely limited in their ability to control the camera on their child's phone.  It's difficult to purchase a cell phone without a camera these days, and most of them do not provide parents the ability to permanently turn camera/video off.  The mother from Pennsylvania solved the problem by having her husband take a small drill and drill into the lens of her kid's camera - extreme?...yes.  Problem solved?...yes.  The good news is that now, some parents can put away the drill and use this new app instead.

Mobile Media Guard works for Android ("Droid") and Blackberry based smartphones.  What does that mean?  It means it won't work with phones that aren't based on the Android or Blackberry operating system.  How can you tell which phones are?  Ask your service provider.  Here's how it works:

The product works as a "app" on the phone, downloaded and installed from the phone's app store or market.  The setup process is very easy and takes less than 5 minutes to complete.  Once the phone has been set up, parents then visit Mobile Media Guard's website to set up an account and activate the service (another quick, easy process).  Once the service is activated, parents receive an e-mail notification any time a new picture or video is taken by the child's phone and/or whenever the child receives a picture or video via e-mail (on their phone) or text message.  So it not only monitors the pictures and video your child takes, it monitors what their friends are sending to them as well.  When parents receive the e-mail notification about the new picture or video, they can go out to the parent control panel on the Mobile Media Guard website and actually view the image/video.  I was going to post some screenshots and give you an overview of the setup procedure, but the Mobile Media Guard website does such a fantastic job, I don't need to.  You can see for yourself here.

The cost?  Not bad.  The app is free to download and the service subscription is $49.99 per year (for the first phone...additional phones are $35.99 per year each).  For what you get and for how easy it is to use, it's a great deal.

The downside?  I know some parents are going to complain that the service is only available for Android and Blackberry smartphones.  Most kids don't have these high-end (more expensive) phones.  But honestly, the cost of smartphones is dropping, as are the supporting data plans and with the way technology is evolving, all phones will probably be smartphones in he next few years.  The other benefit of smartphones for parents is that there are several good apps that help keep your kids safe (like geolocation/tracking and kid-safe browsers).  And for the iPhone users out there, Mobile Media Guard isn't available...yet.  But the guys at Parental Solutions are working on that.

I really like this product and even better, I like the company behind it.  I had a chance to talk to co-founder Craig Spenner last week and got a strong sense that he and his partner truly believe in "the cause" of keeping kids safe online.  I expect great things from this company in the future.

Find out more about Mobile Media Guard at the website:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Digital Dating Abuse

An emerging problem among teens is digital dating abuse.  In short, a couple breaks up and one or both begin harassing the other online, through hateful messages, lies, insulting websites, social media harassment, and even circulation of nude or embarrassing photos.  The number of teens who experience digital dating abuse is rising logarithmically in the US and is happening in almost every high school in the country.

In light of some recent digital hate crimes and cyber-bullying in the past few months, several media giants have done stories on digital harassment including dating abuse.  MTV had a short series last month called "A Thin Line," Fox News ran related stories in conjunction with cyber-bullying and cyber-harassment, Anderson Cooper and other CNN analysts have been contributing similar story-lines lately.  Today, the CNN website has a great article on the topic that I think every parent of teenagers should read.

Here's the link:

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Young Adult's Guide to Safety in the Digital Age

Here's the scenario:  You've done your best to raise your kids to be decent digital citizens.  Over the years you've had a few online issues but overall you've done a good job keeping your kids safe.  Next year, they go away to college - far removed from your guidance and watchful eye.  They are embarking on a journey into the digital wilderness alone.  Waiting for them are not only the creeps, predators, and bullies you worried about when they were younger, but also a whole new troop of bad guys trying to steal their financial information, rip them off, catch them in a scam, or load their machines with spyware and viruses.  Nervous?  I will be when my kids reach that age ( the not to distant future).  What's a responsible parent to do?  Jeff Sechler has the answer.

Jeff's book: "A Young Adult's Guide to Safety in the Digital Age" is intended for teens and young adults and is a survival guide of strategies that will help young people stay safe and maintain their personal integrity online.  The book is written in a language that is easily understood, it contains simple rules and suggestions, and covers most everything a young adult might encounter.

There are several things I really like about this book.
  1. It fills a void - Most online safety guides are written for parents or teachers of younger kids.  Not much exists for young adults who are experiencing new freedom in the digital world.  Late teen and college age kids don't necessarily need filters for bad words and offensive content.  They need a whole different set of strategies that very few people are writing about.  Sechler's book hits the mark in these areas.
  2. It's comprehensive - The book addresses three primary risk areas: personal safety risks, personal property risks, and professional risks.  The few books that do exist for young adults usually focus on one of these.  The most common are books on protecting your personal safety (from predators, perverts, stalkers, etc.).  The next most common are guides on online privacy and protecting personal property (like bank accounts, identity theft, credit fraud, etc.).  Very few things have been written about professional risks, which is becoming a huge problem for many young people.
  3. It's written for it's target audience - Easy to read, doesn't waste time with a bunch of background or historical info.  This book says "here's the problem and here's the way to protect yourself."  It's hard enough to get kids and young adults to read anything so why muddy the water with auxiliary, useless verbiage?  
  4. It's current...for now - The problem with any print book about technology is that it becomes obsolete so quickly.  But I'm sure this is just a first step for Mr. Sechler and he has plans for keeping this guide up to date (and if he doesn't, he should).  Right now this book addresses all the relevant stuff young people will face as they embark on their solo digital journey.
Of all of these positives, my favorite is definitely how comprehensive this book is.  It tells young people that they have to worry about their personal safety and property as well as their professional integrity.  How many times have heard stories of people posting their drunken "train wreck" photos on Facebook and then regretting it two years later when they try to get a job? Employers are definitely using social media as screening tools, and yet college kids remain selectively oblivious to the dangers of posting risky content.  Sechler's approach to the three primary risk areas that young people face is extremely appropriate and timely.

Here are a list of the major topics in the book:
  • Sexual and Online Predators
  • Cyber-Bullying and Harassment
  • Cell Phone Texting and Sexting
  • Internet Addictions
  • Personal Property Risks
  • Identity Theft
  • Online Scams
  • Computer Viruses and Spyware
  • Professional Risks
  • Online Reputation and Applying for College or Jobs
  • Copyright and Plagiarism Laws

My recommendation?  I think that this book should be required reading for every high school in the USA.  The problem that Mr. Sechler faces with this book is getting it into the right hands.  Kids that age are probably not going to go out and buy a book like this.  Required reading might be the only way to appeal to large numbers.  This book is valuable enough to make it part of any school's required reading and it is short enough and easy enough to read that it won't have too big an impact on the rest of the curriculum.  My suggestion for Sechler: come up with a teachers guide on how to teach a short unit around this book.  That would definitely drive adoption by school districts.

I definitely recommend this book, not only for young people, but for parents of young people who want to help their children stay safe online.  I am also going to actively suggest it to the school districts I work with.  It's cheap, easy to read, and covers some really important stuff.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon:

And here is a link to the book's website where you can get in touch with the author and/or publisher:

Friday, October 22, 2010

WHIO TV Internet Safety Interview

In July of this year, I was interviewed by WHIO TV in Dayton OH. I finally got my hands on a copy of the video. It was too big to post in one chunk so I had to split it into two parts. Here you go:

Part 1

Part 2

Thanks to WHIO TV for providing me a copy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

GoGoStat Parental Guidance for Facebook - Part II

Sorry for the delay.  I know I said I'd get to Part II of this article "tomorrow" but a death in the family and an unexpected trip to Colorado put me way behind.

So lets talk more about GoGoStat.  As I said in my first article, I discovered the GoGoStat product through an article on an NBC News website.  The article caught my attention because it was titled "Facebook Partners with GoGoStat to Improve Safety for Kids."  Could it be possible that Facebook was acting responsibly?  Don't get your hopes up.  My interview with Senior Product Manager Ron Stevenson revealed that Facebook had nothing to do with the appearance of GoGoStat on the Facebook scene.  GoGoStat is a Facebook app like a thousand other Facebook apps, all developed by third party entities to run inside the Facebook environment.  Facebook offers an interface for programmers (called an API) that allows them to come up with games and/or gadgets that people can add to their page.  I'm sure you've heard of FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and any number of trivia games.  These are all applications that people other than Facebook create and then list on Facebook's site for people to add to their profiles. The point is, they are all developed independently from Facebook.  However, they all must operate inside of Facebook's "rules of operation" including their privacy policy.

I found it interesting and ironic that the developers at GoGoStat had a difficult time creating their product within Facebook's rules.  Facebook doesn't allow people to create apps that invade user's privacy or distribute personal information and that's exactly what GoGoStat a good way.  It monitor's a child's profile/page and reports information about it to another person - the child's parent. That functionality is against the rules.  Here is GoGoStat trying to make a much needed tool to protect kids and here is Facebook making it difficult for them at every turn.  BUT (and I can't believe I am writing this) don't be too hard on Facebook.  Without such rules and requirements there could be a glut of really bad apps that could endanger kids even more.  So, while the process was difficult for GoGoStat, it was a necessary evil.  And their developers were smart enough to make it work despite the limitations.

The other thing I found interesting is that every time Facebook changes it's privacy policies, GoGoStat has to adjust their product so that it still works within the new regulations.  Facebook "improves" their privacy policies about once every two months.  That means the GoGoStat developers have to remain vigilant so that there is no lag in service.  To date, the product has worked smoothly.  Not bad for a free service.  I personally think it's admirable that the GoGoStat people are that committed.

Kudos to GoGoStat.  Keep up the good work.  Consider me a fan and supporter.

Oh and one more thing.  In the first article I talked about the Spanish version of the product. It was released last week.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

GoGoStat Parental Guidance for Facebook - Part I

Looking for a way to protect your kids on Facebook?  Keep reading.

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis put up with my frequent critical rantings about Facebook.  It's a dangerous place for kids and Facebook does nothing to make it safer, despite their seemingly unlimited resources and success.  Facebook's position: "It's not our job to police your children."  That statement is two-sided for me.  On one side...believe it or not...I agree with Facebook.  It's not their responsibility to monitor what children do, it's the parent's responsibility.  I firmly believe that parents who allow their children to run wild in Facebook without supervision are asking for trouble.  Trouble from sexual predators, trouble from cyber-bullies, trouble from identity thieves, and trouble from the future as their kids' potential employers find the drunken train wreck pictures their kids post.  On the other side of the statement, I disagree.  If you are going to make a free product available on a medium like the Internet, you have to take some responsibility.  Tobacco companies got slammed years ago because it was too easy for kids to get cigarettes.  Those tobacco companies could have used the same "it's not our responsibility" argument Facebook does, but we as a society stepped up and said "you produce a dangerous product that threatens the health and welfare of our must control it."  Under that same logic, why are we letting Facebook get away with the same thing?  The thing that bugs me the most is Facebook could do the right thing and use some of their billions of dollars to make their product safer for kids but for no good reason, they are choosing NOT to do the right thing.

My advice to parents has always been to keep your kids off Facebook until they are adults.  With other alternatives like Yoursphere and (hopefully soon) Imbee, they can have a similar or better experience without the risk.  But I realize that this advice is unrealistic.  The genie is out of the bottle.  So what now?

GoGoStat Parental Guidance for Facebook is definitely "what now."  GoGoStat is a Facebook App that monitors your kids' Facebook pages and lets you know when their content is at risk.  I learned about this product through an article on NBC's website and as soon as I did, I had to know more about it.  So, I sent an e-mail to GoGoStat asking to talk to someone and they were gracious enough to comply.  Yesterday I had a great conversation with Ron Stevenson, Senior Product Manager and collected some good information.

What it Does
GoGoStat runs in the background whenever your child is logged into Facebook.  It monitors the content on your child's page and looks for "at risk" items.  You will be notified when...
  • Your child posts pictures (any pictures)
  • Your child "friends" someone new (personal info of the new friend is provided)
  • Your child uses or receives words on their page or messages that meet GoGoStat's ever-growing, predefined criteria for at-risk content.  This includes not only foul language, but language that is sexual in nature, drug references, suicide references, and language used in cyber-bullying.
Notification of at risk items comes to your e-mail address:

When you log into your GoGoStat parent control panel in Facebook you see something like this:

Reading the "Full Report" (green button) provides the details about the content in question

How it Works
GoGoStat is installed through a mutual agreement between parent and child.  The parent signs up for GoGoStat and in the process, identifies his/her children's Facebook profiles.  The child and parent are both sent special codes and both must exchange these codes outside of Facebook to complete the process.

Once GoGoStat is setup, it runs quietly in the background whenever your child is on Facebook.  There are no indicators or graphics displayed on your child's Facebook profile that GoGoStat is running (nothing for them to be embarrassed about).  One of the huge benefits of GoGoStat being a Facebook App is that it runs as part of Facebook.  Many competing products like SocialShield, McAfee, and Norton run only on the machine where the product is installed.  If your child logs into Facebook at a friend's house, no parental controls are enabled and their activities are unmonitored.  GoGoStat is "on" whenever your child is on.

What it Costs
Nothing.  It is totally free.  Since I am usually suspect of anything free online, I asked Ron Stevenson if it really was free and how they supported it.  He explained that the current version of GoGoStat will always be free.  In the near future, they will be releasing a paid version of the app that provides additional features to parents, but even that will only be a few dollars per month (and you will still have the free version as an alternative).  GoGoStat is one of several products the company makes.  The big picture for them is to create a comprehensive platform of social networking products and offering GoGoStat for free gets people used to their product and brand name.  It's the same marketing concept Google uses.  Win for for us.

Not many.  Some parents may not like that they have to have a Facebook profile in order for GoGoStat to work.  But honestly, if your child is on Facebook you should have a profile to keep tabs on them.  You used a baby monitor when they were new...think of this as an "adolescent monitor."  The soon to be released premium (paid) version won't require a parent Facebook profile and word is the free version will go that route in the future.

Everything listed above plus the newly released support for Spanish language.  The number of Spanish speaking people in the US is unquestionably on the rise.  If your child is a native Spanish speaker, then rest assured the product will monitor them as well.  If your child is not, you should realize that they can pick up some Spanish from native speaking peers.  Using Spanish to hide conversations or words from parents is a rapidly growing strategy among teens.  GoGoStat monitors both languages.  Also, the fact that the product is a Facebook App means nothing to install on your computer and nothing to update (GoGoStat takes care of that).

Where to Get it
GoGoStat Website:
GoGoStat Facebook Page:

Ron was also nice enough to send me a pdf file that contained screen shots of the screens that parents and children encounter.  You may find it informative.  Download the document here.

I am definitely a big fan of this product and recommend it to all parents who have kids on Facebook.  What do you have to lose?  If your child doesn't want you to install it, too bad.  Be a parent.  Access to their Facebook account SHOULD be a condition for being allowed to have one.  But parents should keep in mind that this product only monitors your child's Facebook site.  It does not block anything or prevent them from doing anything.  It just gives you the info, it's your responsibility to act on it.

I have much more good stuff on GoGoStat but this article is getting too long.  Look for part II of my discussion about GoGoStat tomorrow.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cyber-Bullying Awareness

1 in 5 kids in the USA have experienced cyber-bullying in some form.  So says a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Cyber-bullying is an ever-growing problem that is becoming more difficult to control.  It occurs in most every form of electronic/digital media that children access today:
  • On the Internet via social networking sites (e.g. Facebook and MySpace), chat rooms, instant messaging, YouTube (a favorite tool of cyber-bullies), websites, and e-mail
  • On video game consoles via online multiplayer games
  • On cell phones via text messaging, instant messaging, and e-mail
The reality is that kids today are near to one or more of these media sources 24/7 and as such, are unable to escape the trauma of being bullied.  When I was a kid, you got bullied by "that kid" on the playground or in your neighborhood but the instances were short lived and when it was over, it was over.  If you got bullied at school, you could go home and be safe, removed from the influence of the bully.  Cyber-bullying is constant - kids can't escape it. It's also permanent.  When a cyber-bully posts something hateful online, it remains until someone removes it.  Go out to YouTube and search for "Star Wars Kid."  Your search will return hundreds of variations of the same video - a video that was supposed to be the private property of one 15 year old boy - a video that was absconded by cyber-bullies who pretended to be the kid's friends and then posted online in an effort to humiliate the kid - a video that was posted over 5 years ago.  The video has collected over 3 million hits since it was posted.  Now imagine if that happened to your child.

Parents need to increase their awareness about cyber-bullying.  Too many parents don't view it as a tangible threat.  During one of my Internet Safety presentations, I had a father say "don't you think you are making too big a deal out of aren't actually hurt by can't punch someone over the Internet."  Really?  Cyber-bullying results in suicide, depression, eating disorders, poor self-image, etc.  Are these not real medical threats?  If your child had these conditions as a result of being cyber-bullied, how would you deal with telling them they are making "too big a deal out of it?"

CNN ran a great article today on cyber-bullying.  You can read it here.  Also, Anderson Cooper, in cooperation with the Cartoon Network, is airing an episode of Anderson Cooper 360 titled "Stop Bullying: Speak Up" tonight (Monday, 10/4) at 10PM EST.  I will definitely be watching it and I would recommend all parents do the same.

CNN just posted another good article (interview with the father of a boy that tried to commit suicide after being cyber-bullied) on the subject.  Read it here. 

Yet another great article from CNN on this topic.  Read it here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Is The Answer?

My friend Tracy Mooney from McAfee (read her blog here) responded to my latest posting about Facebook with this question/statement: "Yes but how?"  A very short statement that sums up a huge problem with the online world - how do we make it safe for kids?  I can always count on Tracy to bring my lofty goals down to Earth :-).

In July, I wrote an article reviewing the Online Safety and Technology Working Groups (OSTWG) report on the current status of the online safety of children in the U.S. and their recommendations for improving the situation.  In summary, their research produced extremely valuable data and their suggestions fell far short of improving anything.  At that time I made some suggestions for how we as a nation might make the online world safer for kids.  The two primary suggestions I had were:

  1. Certified "Kid Safe" sites - a single organization (like the OSTWG) comes up with a set of standards and requirements that a website must meet to receive the certification.  A company like Google creates a browser that only allows access to these certified sites.  Schools and homes install this specialized browser on machines that children use.  The federal government legislates steep penalties for organizations that abuse the certification.
  2. Youth ambassadors/youth credibility - the message of good online citizenship must come from sources that kids view as credible.  That means people who know the online world as well as they do and people that aren't viewed by kids as being out of touch with the problems they face.  A national curriculum should be created (again OSTWG would be a good source for this) utilizing college age, young adults (much like youth ministers or camp counselors) to deliver the message.

Of course there is much more to this than the summary description I listed above.  Read the full article for complete details.

While I still strongly believe these ideas are sound and should be explored on a national level, I don't think either of these solutions would solve problems like the one presented by Facebook.  Here are the facts:
  • Facebook is unsafe for kids
  • Facebook is blatantly uncaring and uninterested in making their site safer for kids
  • Kids would still join Facebook despite my "Kid Safe" site certification idea.
In a perfect world, I would like to believe that sites and services like Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc. would live by the adage: "with great power comes great responsibility".  All of these companies have become very lucrative and powerful from the success of their products.  Stepping up to the "responsibility" part of the equation should be the next step.  With all of their resources and momentum, they should set aside some money and R&D effort to come up with a solution.  They are obviously smart enough.  But apparently they aren't interested in being responsible and clearly we can't count on them to solve the problem.  Without their leadership, we are back to Tracy's question "Yes, but how?"

I was laying in bed thinking about all of this last night when something occurred to me (bear with me here).  In the early 1900's automobiles were the emerging technology in Europe and the U.S..  European government leaders recognized the dangers that these machines zipping around pedestrians and slow moving animals could create.  In 1903, Prussian leaders created a set of mandatory tests that drivers had to pass before receiving a certificate of privilege to drive.  Included in these requirements was a mandatory age, clear vision and hearing, and a baseline level of intelligence and responsiveness to typical scenarios drivers would face.  The driver's license was born and the concept quickly caught on and was adopted by governments all over the world (the first in the U.S. was New York, 1910). Today the emerging technology is cyberspace.  Is it time to come up with a license to use it?  Maybe so.

Imagine a culture that has embedded the online world into every part of their lives - communication, entertainment, shopping, news and information, banking, business interactions, etc.  Realizing the potential danger that abuse of such a system could cause, this culture's leadership comes up with a digital ID much like a driver's license.  You receive it when you are born and use it through life to identify and verify yourself when you go online making business and commerce transactions.  It would keep you out of harmful sites when you are young and give you more security when you shop and do your banking.  OH WAIT...we are that culture...why haven't we looked into developing the digital ID for all citizens?  Businesses have been doing it for years.  The digital signature is common for verifying digital transactions and verifying data in the corporate world.  The technology is there, why not take it to the next level and make a digital identity required just like a birth certificate and social security card?

This concept is nothing new and I certainly didn't invent this idea.  Digital visionaries have been kicking the idea around for 20 years.  The two big arguments that come up any time the concept of a required, national digital ID are:

  1. The infrastructure it would require to manage such a system would be huge and expensive - who would assume that responsibility?
  2. The "Big Brother" potential - people feel that this gives the government too much visibility into our private lives.

Here are my answers to those arguments.  First, Social Security is a big system, as is the State driver's license system.  But we do it because it's necessary.  How long will we keep our head in the sand and not admit that we have progressed to a point where digital ID's are now necessary? Let's also not forget that the federal government is spending billions trying to stimulate new business - grants for anyone to come up with any hair-brained idea they have.  Well, this would be a new business wouldn't it?  Put some stimulus money toward developing this.

Second, come on...the Big Brother argument is no longer valid.  If we as a nation were worried about government visibility into our private lives, we wouldn't be posting every mundane detail of what we do on our social media accounts.  Do you really think the government doesn't have visibility into that? When George Orwell's book 1984 came out, it scared people and a huge push for individuality and personal privacy ensued.  60 years later we have willingly sacrificed every shred of our personal privacy in the name of entertainment. What we have done with Facebook and Twitter would scare George Orwell.

Someone has to do something.  Our current solutions aren't working.  It's time that society wakes up and confronts this problem realistically.  What would have happened if our forefathers said "a driver's license is a silly waste of time"?  Would you venture out onto the roads knowing there are no minimum safety requirements or accountability for the other drivers around you?  No.  Then why are we doing it digitally?

So, my new, number 3 item on my list of solutions is personal digital ID's.  Let the nay-saying begin.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fox News: Pedophiles Find a Home for Social Networking -- on Facebook

Last week I was lambasted by a purported Facebook employee who said that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's donation of $100 million to schools in NJ proves that child wellfare is extremely important to Facebook and that I was pretty much full of crap as a critic.

Today an article by Fox News reports that a national association for pedophiles - NAMBLA (yes, believe it or not there is one) uses Facebook as their primary source for communication.  Read the article here (it's definitely a must read).  Pornographic pictures of minors are exchanged, meetings with minors are arranged, and the so called "rights" of pedophiles are evangelized.  Preliminary reports show that this group has used Facebook for at least two years and possibly more without incident (meaning Facebook has not shut them down).

Facebook's response to the article by Fox News was this statement: "We take safety very seriously and have a strict policy against the posting of child exploitive content or content that supports child exploitive groups.  Facebook is highly self-regulating, and users can and do report content that they find questionable or offensive. Our team of investigations professionals reviews these reports, removes content that violates our policies, and escalates to law enforcement as necessary.” 

If this statement were true, why is it that Fox News investigators found not only NAMBLA's disgusting site, but over 80 affiliated group sites and over 100 links from other group sites to the NAMBLA site?  80 groups don't pop up overnight.  If Facebook made any effort at all to investigate as they say they do, they would have surely stumbled onto one of these sites (which should have lead them to others).  The Fox News article reports that a simple search on "man/boy love" revealed many of the sites.

So I would very much like the Facebook employee who keeps sending me hate mail to comment on this article and their supposed commitment to child safety on their social network.  And I would also very much like all those parents out there that let their children run amok on Facebook unsupervised to rethink that policy.

UPDATE:  Mary Kay Hoal of and took the ball and ran with it even further.  Be sure to read her article for even more information on Facebook and NAMBLA.  Good stuff Mary Kay!

ANOTHER UPDATE:  Because of Fox New's outstanding report, Facebook is finally dismantling the NAMBLA organization and their chapters sites.  Read about it here.  Thank you Fox News!

iBoss Router - Where Can I Get One?

Several times I have spoken of the iBoss Router.  Great product that solves many online safety problems in the home.  If you want to know more about it, you can read my review here.  The problem with the iBoss Router is where to get it.  Phantom Technologies (who makes the iBoss) seems to be moving in an enterprise direction, marketing their equipment to large organizations.  As a result, their website is becoming less friendly to the home users like you and I. 

I got an e-mail yesterday from someone who was frustrated that they couldn't find iBoss home router information on the Phantom Technologies website.  I went out and dug around and finally came up with it.  Here is the link:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Facebook Fires Back...Again

If you read this blog, you know that I occasionally get e-mails from a person at Facebook complaining or disputing my many Facebook related posts.  I got another one today, this one directing my attention to this article:

The article reports that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated over $100 million to schools in Newark NJ.  The e-mail that I received had this message in it for me:

"You go to great lengths to point out how Facebook is supposedly harmful for children and that Facebook as a company has no interest in the welfare of children.  This donation by our CEO proves that you are very wrong and, I believe, discredits you as a critic."

Really?!  So you create a product that readily reveals private information about children, that facilitates cyber-bullying and harassment from anonymous sources, and makes it easy for pedophiles and sexual predators to stalk and hunt minors...and this donation is supposed to make that all "ok."  Seriously?

Pablo Escobar was one of the most generous donors to schools and social services in his local community in Columbia.  Did that make the drug empire he ran "ok"? Did that make up for the millions of people who's lives were destroyed from addiction to his drugs?  I'm not saying that Facebook is comparable to a Columbian drug cartel (far from it), but a donation doesn't automatically fix the problems.  Morality isn't something you can purchase.  I would have rather seen Zuckerberg invest that money into efforts around making Facebook safer for kids.  Then at least he would be accepting responsibility for the problems his product creates.

And of course I have to end with my usual sermon.  The blame for exposure to dangerous Facebook features does not lie solely with the people at Facebook.  Any parent who lets their child get onto Facebook without direction or monitoring is equally to blame. Ignorance isn't an excuse, it's a form of laziness.  Learn about Facebook and if you must let your kids on it, be there with them.  It's a dangerous neighborhood.

(note: the communication I have received from Facebook has been from an anonymous person who claims to be a Facebook employee.  No official communication from Facebook has been issued, though I would very much like to start that dialogue with them)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Facebook Faux Pas

This is both funny and scary at the same time.  A British teen accidentally created a public event for her private birthday party and posted it to Facebook (including her home address and contact info).  Within a few days over 20,000 people responded (and now know the girl's address and contact info).

You can read the article here:

Parents, know what your kids are doing on Facebook.  Kids make bad choices sometimes (intentionally or not) and Facebook does nothing to protect their privacy.  It's definitely a dangerous place for kids.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dangers of Skype

Wow.  If your kids use Skype, you have to read this great article by Stephanie Kohl.


Dangers of Internet for children highlighted by Skype incident

September 16, 2010

A 10-year-old Lake Forest girl was chatting with her friends on Skype about the first day of school and some homework assignments recently.

It was not unusual for the student to log into Skype -- which offers free video calls and instant messaging to others on Skype -- on Sept. 1, as she and her friends have been using it for awhile now. So, when a user with a screen name she didn't recognize requested to chat with her, she accepted, thinking it was a friend from the neighborhood, said her mother.

After the request was accepted, a video started. It was a naked, middle-aged man inappropriately touching himself and sending equally inappropriate messages to her. The girl screamed for her mother, who immediately called the police. The incident is still under investigation.

"She got so freaked out that she's not Skypeing anymore," the mother said of her daughter. (The pair wish to remain anonymous.)

Realizing if this happened to her daughter, it could happen to anyone using any online communication tool, the woman shared the incident with her friends. She also told all her children who use Skype and other cyber outlets -- like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter -- to communicate only with their friends and to never respond to requests from people they are not certain they know.

Read the rest of the article here

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How to Disable Facebook Places

Hopefully, you've read my rants on how dangerous I believe the Facebook Places feature is for kids.  If you haven't you can read them here.  My intention was to post instructions for parents and teachers to disable Facebook Places but my friends at beat me to it (not surprising since they always have great info for parents and teachers).  So with their gracious permission, I am re-posting their content so you can be better informed about disabling this feature.

Here is their article (you can read the original article complete with pictures here)


How to Turn Facebook Places Off
A GPS (Global Positioning System) can be a great tool when we need it--like for driving directions or when we need to find the nearest Starbucks.  But when it comes to protecting our children from strangers--whether it's online or in real life--giving away the exact location of our kids is the last thing we want to do. 

So we've put this guide together for parents who use Facebook, or have older children who are on Facebook.  The guide gives you a thorough walk-through on how to disable Facebook Places to the best of your abilities.  You'll have to dig through the Privacy Settings and Account Settings of your profile and your child's profile if you want to do it right, so follow each step carefully:
Privacy Settings: Step 1 - Log in your Facebook profile => go to Account => go to Privacy Settings.
Step 2 - From this page click on the little blue link towards the bottom called "Customize settings"
Step 3 - In the category "Things I Share" look for "Places I check in to" and click on the drop-down menu.
Step 4 - Choose "Custom". In the box that comes up, under "Make this visible to" select "Only Me".
This will make it so that in case you do ever "check in" on accident, with Places, the only News Feed it'll appear on is yours.  (This is protection for you since Facebook doesn't allow you the option to "disable" or to completely opt out of this particular feature of Places.)
Step 5 - In the same category, uncheck the box called "Include me in "People Here Now" after I check in
Step 6 - In the next category, "Things Others Share", click on the drop-down menu next to "Friends can check me in to Places" and select Disabled.
Account Settings:
Step 1 - Go back up to Account  => go to Account Settings
Step 2 - At the top, click on the Notifications tab.
Step 3 - Scroll all the way down to the Places category and uncheck BOTH boxes. 
Step 4 - Click the Save Changes button below.
Click here for the full guide with pictures and all.  You can also read Mary Kay's thoughts and concerns about Facebook Places.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Google Family Safety Center - Come On Google, You're Better Than This!!

Last week, Google launched their anticipated "Family Safety Center" without much noise from the media.  I knew this effort was in the works but didn't know when it was coming out.  It's out :-).

I was excited about the possibilities that a project like this coming from an organization like Google could bring.  Everything Google does is cool and cutting edge and I was hoping for another home run in their long list of successful ventures (YouTube, Picasa, Buzz, Blogger, Gmail, Chrome, and about a hundred other subsidiaries, not to mention their ever-improving search engine).  Like a fan at a Red's game, I watched the pitch with great anticipation as the launch of Google Family Center approached...the swing of the bat...a hit....and...a short little blooper over the short stop's head.  A single...but definitely not a home run.

A few months ago I did an article about Disney's lame attempt at child safety online.  Companies like Disney...and Google, with all of their power and momentum, should be able to come up with something ground breaking; something that really advances the cause of Internet safety for kids.  Instead, both came up with a lukewarm attempt that was just a repeat of stuff other people are already doing.  Almost as if they were just looking to "say" they are doing something instead of actually doing something.  Google could have done a lot more than they did.

So what does Google Family Center offer parents and teachers?  Here's the list:
  1. Google Safety Tools - this is the most useful feature of this new service (though that's not saying much).  It contains directions for enabling safety features in Google search and YouTube.
  2. Report Abuse - provides instructions for how to report abuse or offensive content found on YouTube, Buzz, Picasa, and Blogger
  3. Advice from Partners - a list of links to the standard Internet Safety websites
  4. Video Tips for Google Parents - a small collection of videos of (apparently) Google employees talking about Internet safety issues with their own kids.
Some of this stuff is useful, but consider this:  With the exception of "Report Abuse," every feature Google Family Center also a feature of this blog (the one you are reading right now).  Over on the right hand side you will see links to many of the "partners" they reference.  You will also find directions for using Google's safety tools.  On top of that, I try to post useful information as often as I can (often daily), which they are not doing.  Last time I checked, I'm not a multi-billion dollar global corporation who could afford to pour tons of money into such an effort...and I'm practically out competing them in this space.

If it were anyone else, I would probably give the site a 4+ on my 10 point scale, but because of what Google COULD do if they really wanted to, I give Google Family Center a 3- (barely).  Maybe this is just the first step.  Maybe a year from now this service will be super cool.  I hope so.  But for now, don't waste your time.  Come on're better than this.

Here's the link:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thanks to the Western Cincy Monthers of Twins Club

Did a presentation last night for the Western Cincinnati Mothers of Twins club. Great group, very engaged in the dialogue and interested in child safety online. Thanks for having me.

Here is a link to their website.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

If You Wouldn't Say It In Person...Don't Say It Online

I've seen this video before but stumbled across it again yesterday.  It's a great statement about cyber-bullying and it's only 47 seconds long.  The message focuses on how easy it is for kids to say things about others online - things they wouldn't say to a person's face.

Monday, September 6, 2010

...And the Facebook Hits Just Keep On Comin'

Clearly Facebook has crossed the line from being ignorant about child safety to blatantly not caring.  The only place to go from here is for them to just admit they are a site that facilitates sexual predation and be done with it.  They could start making money by advertising services to creepy perverts..."Rent dirty old ice cream trucks by the hour."  Maybe because Craigslist did something good and decided to censor it's bad content, Facebook saw a need to balance the equation and do something bad.  What am I talking about?  This article on CNN this morning:

Facebook has invented yet another gadget that will further violate your childrens' privacy and safety.  The latest "gem" is a feature that lets you "subscribe" to a specific person.  Once you subscribe to someone, you get notices, via e-mail or on your cell phone, every time they post anything onto their Facebook page.  That means when little Suzie posts a message about making the cheerleading squad and going to her friend Janie's party to celebrate, her pervert stalker will know it instantly.  To make it even scarier, if you combine this new feature with the equally reckless Facebook Places feature, every time your child reveals his/her location to Facebook, anyone who has subscribed will be instantly updated.  Brilliant!  So when Suzie arrives at the cheerleading party with all of her cheerleader friends, creepy stalker will be updated.  Why don't the people at Facebook just go all the way and offer a "webcam in childrens' bedrooms" feature to complete the sexual predator suite?

Of course Facebook's defense is their usual "you don't have to use this feature."  Again, that defense doesn't work for drugs and alcohol (Jimmy, you don't have to go get high with your friends tonight....really Mom?...ok, I won't), how will it work here?

Facebook has clearly left the child-safety building.  I have lost all hope that they will ever be a safe medium for anyone under 18.  To all you parents out there reading, I will say this:  If your kids are on Facebook you better be closely involved.  It's turning into a really bad neighborhood.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Facebook Stalker Continues to Harass 12-Year-Old Girl

 I got a very nasty comment from someone who works at Facebook last week about my posting criticizing their Facebook Places feature.  The comment was very unprofessional so I didn't approve it to be displayed.  In the comment the person said that "...child safety is one of the top concerns at Facebook."  Yeah right!  And then there is this article from this morning that says otherwise.
Facebook stalker continues to harass 12-year-old girl
By Helen A.S. Popkin

Hot on the heels of a woman who's suing Facebook after the world's largest social network bounced her account (for reasons that remain unclear), comes a story from Australia about a mother who can't get Facebook to shut down a stalker using the site to harass her 12-year-old daughter and her friends.

"A Sydney mother-of-three, her daughter and daughter's friends have been subjected to a two-week ordeal at the hands of a Facebook stalker and they have been unable to get the social networking company to intervene," the Sydney Morning Herald reported Thursday.

This dramatic tale of a Facebook stalker hacking and harassing young girls on Facebook speaks to a couple of issues regularly faced in this brave new world of social media — the dangers awaiting children online and Facebook's oft-complained-about lack of customer service.

According to the newspaper story, the stalker gained access to the daughter's account and used her identity to gather information about her (including her address) from her Facebook friends, unbeknownst to the girl. The hacker was discovered, but continued to harass the girl, her mother and friends with threatening messages, pornographic images and the like.

Unable to shut down her daughter's profile, "We tried reporting [the account] on Facebook," the mother said. "We got all her friends to report it on Facebook. Facebook won't reply. They don't want to contact us. They don't want to know about it, basically. You cannot ring Facebook."

In a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald, an Australia-based public relations firm that represents the social network in that country pointed out Facebook's 14-year-old minimum age requirement. The firm also said that "Facebook cooperates with Australian law enforcement agencies to help ensure that Facebook remains a safe place for our users to connect with friends and family."

Authorities investigating the case first told the mother they had the ability to shut down her daughter's account, but eventually contacted her telling her they were unable to, and the profile remains live.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kid-Safe Homework Help Sites

The school year is underway for most people and as a result, I've gotten several e-mails asking me about kid-safe websites that offer homework help.  So instead of answering these e-mails one by one...and because I think any parent or teacher would benefit from information about such sites, I decided to post an article about it.

Many teachers already have preferred sites for student homework assistance.  My advice to parents is, if your child's teacher recommends a specific site, use that site.  If you still need more help, here are a few that I know of:

Smithsonian Institute Encyclopedia -
KidsClick -
Kids.Gov -
WebLens for Kids -
AOL Kids Homework Help -

Certainly these aren't all the good homework help sites out there.  So I am asking all of you...If there are any sites you know of that are... A. kid friendly (meaning safe) and B. free, leave a comment or send me an e-mail and I will add it to my list above.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Imbee...Follow Up!!

Thanks to a very nice e-mail from someone at Imbee, I now have more of the inside scoop about their status.

First let me say that my last posting about Imbee was a little critical for two reasons, 1. I think they could be doing a better job keeping the interested public informed what's going on (why the delays?) and 2. I am anxious for Imbee to come back on the scene.  With all the stupid choices Facebook is making these days, we need more kid-friendly social networking sites to give kids safer alternatives.  Imbee was very cool...then it was I'd like to see it come back.

Here is some of the info in the e-mail I got last night from an Imbee employee.

"You are right in saying imbee was a great site, thank you. However, sadly in early 2008 our original founder passed away in a plane crash. After the tragedy, we had to shut our doors in mid 2009."

Apparently someone new bought them and once the once all the legal stuff got worked out, they started the wheels turning again.  She went on to say...

"... in February of this year initiated re-building imbee 2.0. We have had some unexpected delays as most complex websites as well as start up companies do. We are currently on our plan and are working hard to ensure the site up by the end of summer. We still have about 3 and a half weeks left of summer so stay tuned!"

So I'm staying tuned.  I want Imbee to be cool again and will keep you posted as to their progress.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Imbee...come on already!!

Since I have been itching to review Imbee, I signed up on their e-mail list so that I could be notified when they finally relaunch the site. (which used to be pretty cool) is supposed to be a kid-friendly alternative to Facebook and MySpace and is in the same genre of sites as (which I love).  Imbee seemed to be doing well and then suddenly a year or so ago, they disappeared from the web with no prior warning to their members. Their website claims a summer 2010 return.

I have gotten several e-mails from them in the past two months touting new, great features of Imbee, like the one I got yesterday:

"Dear imbee friends,

The hottest Dopest, Realest, most Epic Wrap-up ever just arrived on the internet today!
(by the way -- pathetic attempt to get street cred with the kids)

DREW is your one-stop shop for up to the minute pop culture news. Through the DREW news wire, you will be the first to know what’s happening in the world of entertainment and lifestyle. Story posts will include events, red carpet appearances, daily paparazzi roundups, and much more!

All DREW post will fall into one of the following catagories
(oh and "categories" is spelled c-a-t-E-g-o-r-i-e-s ....maybe they are the "dope - est"): Music, Film & TV, Events, Style, Technology and Sports.

Come check out DREW, we know you’ll love it!"

The problem is, when you go to to "check it out," there is no site.  Just a message saying Imbee will return summer 2010.  If I'm not mistaken, summer 2010 is almost over and still no Imbee. 

Perhaps Imbee should be spending less time crafting spelling-challenged e-mails and producing YouTube video commercials about how cool their site is going to be and more time ....oh, I don't know...actually GETTING THEIR SITE WORKING!!!  And change the message on the home page already.  Don't tell me it will be ready summer 2010 when that obviously isn't happening.

These Imbee guys are a puzzle to me.  Great site, going strong...disappears.  A year later, lots of effort around generating hype but no results.  I hope their content people are better than their marketing people.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Facebook GeoLocation -- Part 2

Apparently I wasn't the only one bashing Facebook's new geolocation service: "Facebook Places."  A recent article on CNN reflected a great deal of less than amicable feedback Facebook has been receiving about the service.  You can read that article here. Facebook's response was to call their critics (like me) idiots and claim that the criticism comes form a lack of understanding about how the service works.  They even had a press release explaining, to morons like myself, the finer details about how the service functions.  Thanks Facebook guys but, I'm not stupid, I know how the service works, and it's still a really bad idea for kids.

Facebook's defense of their new geolocation service is the same old defense they use whenever they add a new feature that is unpopular with the general public...."you don't have to use it."  Their explanation was that Facebook Places only reports a user's location if that user "check's in" by clicking a link on their page.  They went on to say that if parents are concerned about the feature they should tell their children not to use it.  Brilliant.  That will work.  Parents have been concerned for years about their children drinking and doing drugs...and for years they have been "telling their kids not to use it."  How well has that worked?

If you put a gadget on Facebook, kids are going to use it.  As I said in my last post about this topic, studies show that teenagers are drawn to and will use gadgets and widgets on sites like Facebook and MySpace, even if they aren't sure what they do.  The more gadgets the better.  A parent's request for a child not to use a feature isn't the solution.

What is the solution?  I would like to think that limiting the Facebook Places feature to adult accounts would solve this problem, but it wouldn't.  Kids will lie about their age to get onto Facebook as they have for years.  I would also hope that limiting the the service to Facebook mobile would solve it but kids with smartphones would still use it.

So what does a concerned parent do? As long as there are irresponsible companies like Facebook making dangerous toys for your kids, the only thing you can do is talk to them.  Explain why these features are a bad idea.  Explain the risks involved.  Set expectations and have consequences.  If your child has a Facebook page, insist that you have access to it.  Monitoring their page will reveal whether or not they are using gadgets like Facebook Places.  Also, tools like Norton Online Family should report such usage.

I still maintain that Facebook is no place for kids.  The company obviously cares little about privacy and safety for children and continues to make decisions that ignore these concepts.  There are other alternatives (like that give kids the same capabilities but in a safer environment without "sharp edges."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Long Term Danger of Social Media for Kids

Michael Schmidt, CEO of Google, said some very interesting things in an interview with the Wall Street Journal about long term risks associated with children using social media sites.  I would link you directly to the article on the WSJ website but since their public-facing website is one of the most non-intuitive sites in existence (I guess to inspire you to pay for their member-only website), I can't.  So here is a link to an article from BBC on the interview.

The gist of the interview was that our kids are living in a time when every thing they do online -- every word they write, every picture they post, every website they visit, every song or video they download -- could potentially be recorded and discovered later in life.  Mr. Schmidt theorizes that it may be the case in the future that young people have to legally change their names to hide their digital past from potential employers, future spouses, political rivals, etc.  Interesting idea and probably not that far-fetched.

Whenever we think of risks to kids online, we think of the usual stuff: cyber-bullies, sexual predators, pornography, hate propaganda, etc.  The parents and teachers I talk to on a regular basis don't bring up long term "reputation damage" as a risk they are concerned about.  Maybe they should be.

We've all heard the scenario in the news...a young, new school teacher is denied a job or even fired because of some pictures or video he/she posted online while they were in college.  Many employers who are trying to avoid the HR nightmare of hiring a "train wreck" will surf YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. for social information about a candidate.  Those topless pictures from a party holding a beer in one hand and a bottle of tequila in another are probably not going to help young Jane land that first teaching job.

Let's look at some uncomfortable truths for a are on social media sites, kids make bad decisions sometimes, kids live in the moment, kids often don't consider long-term ramifications of their actions.  On my own Facebook page, I am friends with many of my younger cousins and children of my friends.  I often see collections of pictures or videos they post the day after a big party and am shocked that they would post such compromising content.  Last month, on my Facebook home page I saw a note that my friend's daughter (22 years old) posted pictures in a collection called "Frogfest 2010."  In that collection she had pictures of herself, passed out drunk, in various poses arranged by her friends.  She had obscene things written on her in some pictures, she was stripped nearly naked in others, and the coup de grace was her lying on the ground, topless, covered in her own vomit, with a whiskey bottle in her hand.  And the text below these pictures indicated she was proud of her accomplishments.  One tag was "don't tell me I don't know how to party."  Once those pictures are placed on Facebook, they are the property of the world.  Anyone can download them, post them on other social media sites, e-mail them to friends, etc.  And let's not forget that the pictures probably were taken by cell phones, not cameras (which is another avenue of transfer).  How will these pictures help this girl 3 years from now when she applies for a job as a kindergarten teacher at Virgin Mary Academy?

Think of these bad decisions as STD's (we'll call them social-media transmitted diseases as opposed to sexually transmitted diseases) because they behave much the same way.  A bad decision in a moment of excitement can have damaging, long-term affects on the rest of your child's life.  When your kids are old enough to have cell phones, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts, talk to them and explain the dangers.  They'll still make stupid choices but maybe you can help minimize the damage.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 Article at AlmostSavvy

An e-mail from Tom H. asks "What do you know about"  Well Tom, I know that it is software that allows parents to monitor their childrens' social media sites (like Facebook) and I know they currently have commercials playing on the radio.  Other than that, I don't know much about it.  My only opinions about it so far are A.) It sounds like many of the services they charge you for you can get free from tools like Norton Online Family B.) Their board of directors are all advertisers or bill consolidators (which might suggest they are more interested in making money than in helping kids) C.) Their commercials are obviously preying on fear instead of delivering a positive message.

I was going to review SocialShield but my colleague Irene Koehler of did a fantastic job reviewing it, so I'll let you read hers. is a great resource for people trying to become familiar with social media sites, especially parents who are trying to understand the environment for their kids sake.

Here is a link to Irene's article and here is the actual article that she wrote:


Helping Kids Stay Safe Online. Is SocialShield the Answer?
Posted by Irene Koehler in Facebook, Social Media on June 18, 2010

As a parent, there have been many moments in my life when I considered locking my child in a closet. It would have been for her own safety, mind you. And, I would have let her out when she was, say, 30 or so. I realized that I might have had some legal entanglements to deal with along the way, but there were still those moments when I wondered “what if…”
It’s Scary Out There

Before you call the authorities to report me, there are two important things you should know:

   1. No, I never really did this – not even for a second. But, it is a scary world out there. I also never used one of those leash-things with my daughter, but I did come to understand why some parents choose to do so.
   2. My child is no longer a minor and perfectly able to manage her own life now. She somehow managed to make it through her formative years relatively unscathed, despite my occasional urges to save her from the outside world.

We all want to protect our children for as long as possible, yet we also want them to learn how to navigate the world on their own, making smart decisions along the way. How do we find that balance of holding on and letting go? It is already an enormous challenge in the real world. For many parents, the prospect of helping their children stay safe in the virtual world is even more overwhelming.

Enter SocialShield

If you are looking for a way to monitor your kid’s online browsing activity or chat/IM conversations, there are many easy tools which will allow you to do so. There are numerous keystroke-logging programs which record each word your child types on the keyboard, meaning you get to see everything – emails, passwords, the whole enchilada. These tools may let you know what your child is doing online, but tell you nothing about the identity of their friends or their friends’ activity. It is often this more meaty information that parents seek in order to prevent their children from falling prey to a bully or sexual predator.

Stating that their tools “give parents a 360° view of their kids’ social networking activities,” SocialShield has recently received quite a bit of media attention. After reading yesterday’s post on ReadWriteWeb about the new service, I decided to sign-up for the trial period and take it for a test drive.
Setting Up My SocialShield Account

SocialShield provides a free 14-day trial period. Like most services, this requires credit card information up front. Once the information was entered, I moved on to “Add a Child.” I wondered how they would be able to access my child’s information without knowing her password and how they would verify that it was indeed my own child I was adding. I was curious to see what would prevent me from monitoring a friend (or a stranger) by adding them to my account.
To add my daughter, I added all of her email addresses and selected “I attest that this is my daughter” from the drop-down list of choices. On the list are son/daughter, nephew/niece, grandson/granddaughter, other male/female. To test whether SocialShield magically knew if the person I was adding was really  my child (of course, it can’t know this), I decided to add another person. Not wanting to spy on a friend or a stranger, I chose the one person in that comfortable middle-ground. I selected “other – female” and added my mother, feeling fairly sure I wouldn’t uncover anything scandalous.

Once you’ve added a child, there it is front and center: you need your kid’s passwords. If you were looking for the secret door into your kid’s accounts without having access to their login credentials, this isn’t it (hint: it doesn’t exist). And, simply being Facebook friends with them isn’t enough to get you the information needed for SocialShield to do its thing and alert you to potentially problematic friends and activity. At this point in the process, you can either connect SocialShield to their accounts yourself if you know their usernames and passwords or you can generate an email which is sent to the child asking them to allow access.

This will then lead the child to add their accounts to SocialShield by using Facebook Connect, for example. I discussed this with my daughter ahead of time and she authorized access to her account herself.

My SocialShield Report

  • I received a number of alerts for my daughter’s Facebook account. SocialShield highlighted her Facebook friends who were “significantly older” and those who have “adultlike accounts.”
  • To take another look at how alerts were triggered, I also added myself to my SocialShield account. As I did with my mother, I selected “Other – female.” I received 12 pages of alerts for my own friends, most of which were triggered by “adultlike accounts.”
  • SocialShield was able to find and display 150+ photos of me from Facebook, yet was not able to find any of my daughter’s 700+ Facebook photos.
  • SocialShield alerted me to an update posted by one of my daughter’s friends on her Facebook wall because it included the word head. Of course, each parent needs to evaluate the context on their own. In this instance, her friend was referencing a song which “got stuck in” his head.
  • While I did not request that my mother authorize access to her accounts, SocialShield did tell me that she has (wait for it…) a MySpace account. Really? My mother, whose 75th birthday is this weekend, is on MySpace? After the laughter subsided, I went to MySpace to search for her. Searching for her name delivered no results. Searching for her email address delivered one result – a 24 year old male with Tom as his only MySpace friend. Something seems wonky here. It seems someone may have used her email address to set up an account and that SocialShield did a simple search for her email address without any way to verify her identity.

The Important Stuff: My Overall Impressions

Straight to the point, my high-level thoughts:
  • SocialShield and other monitoring tools are gaining traction because there is real risk out there in the online world. The concept is a solid one. Many parents want a quick and, for the less savvy parents, easy way to keep on eye on their kids’ activity.
  • There is no way to automate parenting. We cannot assign responsibility to software or an online service to do the hard work for us. Nothing replaces having an ongoing dialogue with our children about the world and how to make the right choices. (More on this to come in an upcoming post.)
  • While the concept may be solid, SocialShield’s execution needs quite a bit of work  (examples below).

Specific concerns (in no particular order):
  • One of the key points in the ReadWriteWeb article was the endorsement of the PTA. While I was able to find this information repeated on many other websites, I could not find anything about it on either the PTA or the SocialShield websites. If the endorsement is real, I would expect to be able to verify it easily.
  • The FAQ section should be much more robust. For example, when my results indicated “adultlike accounts” for a huge number of my own and my daughter’s friends, I naturally wanted to understand the meaning of this term. Nowhere on the site is this explained. Does this mean that these people have LinkedIn profiles (which usually means the person is an adult) or that they post porn to their Facebook accounts? I tweeted the question to SocialShield and received this reply: “An account like costco really should be only for adults, not kids. we may find someone who says he’s a kid has this=red flag. A red flag like that says there’s something wrong and you need to look deeper at that person or account. we look at more than fifty sites like this to see if we can find suspicious items.” I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Costco that triggered hundreds of my friends to be labeled as an “adultlike account,” but I get the idea. Either way, the triggers and definitions need to be explained in order to be useful to parents.
  • I think most adults don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes when granting access through Facebook Connect. It is entirely unreasonable to generate the email shown earlier, send it to a (presumably) young child, expect them to read/understand it and then walk through the Facebook Connect process. There is no way for the parent to know ahead of time what will be sent to the child.
  • Take the results with a big grain of salt. Given that SocialShield told me it could find no photos of my daughter on Facebook (despite the fact that there are over 700) and that it returned a false positive MySpace result for my mother leads me to question the accuracy of the report.

These are my initial impressions after using SocialShield for two days. In this time span, the report has shown no new activity even though both my daughter and I (and our friends) have been active online. Obviously, the tool is not intended for short-term use, so you may choose to try it on your own. I look forward to hearing your feedback and experience with this and other similar tools.