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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.