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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: