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 children...you 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.
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 them...win 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: http://www.gogostat.com/
GoGoStat Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=123402281032622&ref=ts
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.