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Monday, May 23, 2011

Facebook - One small step forward 10 huge steps backwards

Facebook is joining other online companies to lobby for the removal of age restrictions imposed by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.  Zuckerburg feels like kids are missing out and could learn more if they plugged in earlier.  I'm sure pedophiles and stalkers everywhere agree.  Read about it here:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Facebook...Another Small Step in the Right Direction

Yesterday, Facebook introduced a set of new safety and security tools and resources as part of their newly redesigned Family Safety Center.  If you read this blog on a regular basis, I wrote an article about their first attempt at their Family Safety Center back in March.  It was a weak start with limited offerings but it was something.  This latest update shows a little more progress in the right direction.

The Facebook Family Safety Center features articles related to safety and privacy; statements about Facebook's safety philosophy; links to tools/resources for parents, teens, teachers, and law enforcement; as well as direct links to relevant Facebook pages, which can be “liked” for continuous updates.  Facebook also claims a downloadable guide for parents and teachers in the near future.

A statement posted on Facebook's blog said this:  "We also recently unveiled a new social reporting tool that allows people to notify a member of their community, in addition to Facebook, when they see something they don’t like.  Safety and child psychology experts tell us that online issues are frequently a reflection of what is happening offline. By encouraging people to seek help from friends, we hope that many of these situations can be resolved face to face. The impact has been encouraging, and we’re now expanding social reporting to other major sections of Facebook, including Profiles, Pages and Groups." Facebook says these reporting mechanisms are currently functional for photos and wall posts, but they plan to extend the functionality to Profiles, Groups, Pages, and events.  Facebook has also added some new security features like "Two Factor Authentication" which helps make sure the right person is accessing sensitive information.  

While I applaud this latest step by Facebook and am glad to see they are finally doing something (as opposed to years of not caring and doing nothing), I certainly think they could be doing more.  The updated Family Safety Center is still just a bunch of links to other places (kind of feels like they are just facilitating the passing of the buck).  Also, the new security features are something that have to be turned on, they aren't automatic.  In other words, all of these new offerings still put the final choice into the hands of the kids who are creating these Facebook pages and provide no authority or control to parents.  It's almost like giving a child a dangerous, addictive drug along with some pamphlets that tell them what to do in case of an overdose.  That's not really responsibility, that's a weak attempt at looking responsible.  BUT, I don't want to be too hard on Facebook.  Again, at least they look like they might be starting to care and I know nothing happens overnight.  Let's hope we see more good stuff out of them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cyber-Stalking Just Got A Lot Easier

I read this article this morning on Bob Sullivan's Blog The Red Tape Chronicles and knew I needed to pass the info on to parents.  John is an excellent writer so instead of me paraphrasing, I'm just going to re-post his article.  To view it on his blog, go to

Just how creepy is 'Creepy'? A test-drive

Bob Sullivan - The Red Tape Chronicles
You probably know that some Internet and cell phone applications like Foursquare or Twitter can broadcast your location to the world.  And you might know that Web sites with names like PleaseRobMe and ICanStalkYou have been created with shock value in mind to call attention to the potential consequences of broadcasting such information. But those sites picked on random individuals and exposed their whereabouts one at a time.
A new software tool created by Greek programmer Yiannis Kakavas goes much farther in the shock category.  Called “Creepy,” Kakavas' tool makes it easy to gather all the location-based digital breadcrumbs that people leave online and plot them on a map.  The map and associated time stamps make it easy to discern their routines -- “It looks like Bob goes to this coffee shop every Friday morning around 10:30” -- a tool of incalculable use to a would-be stalker. For Web users who loyally leave breadcrumbs everywhere ("Now at Whiskey Bar!" "Now at Park Diner," "Finally home") it's possible to recreate much of their daily lives using Creepy.
What's more, unlike ICanStalkYou, users can search for any Foursquare, Twitter or Flickr user they want.  Kakavas tool also adds a handy handle-search tool, in case you only know your stalking subject by their real name.
When I reached Kakavas in Germany, where he is finishing his dissertation on computer security, he took pains to make clear he wasn't trying to make life easier for stalkers. 
"I was trying to make a point," he said. "I'm trying to raise awareness among users of social networking platforms that they actually do share a lot of information and this can potentially be used by people with malicious intentions." 
The name, by the way, derives from the programming language he decided to use when writing his tool -- python, which creates files with the extension .py. So the name for the program, strictly speaking, is
The tool takes only a few moments to download. There's a Windows version along with more hacker-friendly Linux versions.  Users simply enter a handle, hit "Geolocate," and then sit back and wait for results.  "Hits" can come from moments-old Tweets or Flickr images posted months ago. The hits then are plotted on a map, similar to the markers that appear on Google maps after a search for a restaurant.  Clicking on a single hit allows a user to zoom in on a precise location, and offers the time and any media associated with it, such as "Enjoying lunch with @RedTapeChron."
No one should be surprised that their location data ends up on Creepy -- software tools like Twitter are deliberate in asking consumers if they want to post their location and it's not hard to turn the feature off. Clearly, people who tell Foursquare where they are located know they are sharing this information with the world. Still, it's jarring to see all your location declarations plotted on a big map. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Photos and the Ever-Growing Privacy Risk

Anyone who has ever been to one of my presentations is familiar with my stance on kids posting pictures on any online medium (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) or sending photos via their cell phones.  One of the dangers I try to make parents aware of is how "leaky" the digital world is.  Once a picture is posted it can spread to thousands of different sites through innocent exchanges by friends and peers.  The concept of the "toothpaste being out of the tube" is the analogy I often make.  When a child sends or posts a picture online, it becomes the property of the world and you can never take it back.  And what's worse, since many pictures come from social media sites, they have names associated with them - names that can be indexed by search engines and names that can be searched by anyone.

CNN ran a great article about this and the author does a better job articulating it than I can.

Here is the link:

Monday, March 28, 2011


Touted as the app that allows us to indulge our inherent voyeuristic impulses, the iPhone app "Color" was released a short time ago and is already growing in popularity.  The more I learn about this app, the more it baffles me as to why anyone would use it, and the more it concerns me about kids getting their hands on it. Here's how it works:

Once the app is installed on my iPhone or iPad2, any pictures I take using that device are broadcast to everyone around me (within a 150 ft. radius).  Anyone else who has this app installed will receive my photos along with the photos of everyone else who is using the app.  I'm not choosing who get's the pictures (like Facebook) - everyone gets them.  It gets stupider... Not only does it share the pictures I take at that moment in time, it broadcasts all the pictures I have ever taken since the app has been installed (yes...those embarrassing pictures your friend took of you at the bar last weekend are now being broadcast to everyone you work with). broadcasts all the time.  So even if my phone is in my pocket and I'm not using it, it's still sending my photos to everyone within a 150 ft. they can save and/or share with others.

My first question is why?  As a society, we continue to march down this moronic path, sacrificing more and more of our privacy in the name of entertainment.  Those of you who are old enough to have read George Orwell's 1984 should be recognizing that most of the invasions of privacy that "Big Brother" did on behalf of a dictatorship government, we are now doing to ourselves in the name of entertainment.  It's bad enough that I get updates (via Facebook) whenever someone I barely knew in high school visits his dentist, now I get to see pictures of his root canal whether I want them or not.

Let's think about this app in the context of teenagers.  We all know kids do dumb things, and most certainly, if something dumb can be done with a camera on their cell phone, a kid is going to do it.  How many articles do you see in the news these days about sexting?  In the midwest there is a growing problem/trend involving kids taking pictures of each other in school gym locker rooms or bathrooms and sending them out to everyone as a prank.  They don't see the harm in taking a picture of your child in some state of nudity and sharing it with their friends.  Let's now put this new app in the hands of these kids.  Or what about the college kid who thinks it's so awesome to get drunk and take pictures?  You may have read my posting of my friend who's daughter got drunk and her friends stripped her down, wrote vulgar things on her with a marker, took pictures with their cell phones, and posted the pictures on Facebook.  What will happen when we put this app in their hands?

We have reached a point in our evolution where our own reputation is beyond our ability to protect.  It was hard enough to teach young people about the dangers of posting objectionable pictures or information about themselves - how that might prevent them from getting a job or might cause them to lose a job later in life.  Now anyone can take a picture of me at any time, instantly share it with everyone within a city block, post it on Facebook against my wishes and say whatever they want about me.  Am I the only one who see's how dangerous this is all becoming?  To make this all worse, this Color app is free from the iTunes store, which means it will likely spread like wildfire and soon be as prolific as Twitter.

My recommendation to parents of teens is to keep your eye out for this app.  If you see the icon above on your kids' phone's or 4th gen iPod touch, it's time to have a talk about privacy and the dangers of sexting.

I wonder what idiotic app someone will think of next.

BTW, you can read about this app on CNN.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Could it Be? Facebook Finally Doing the Right Thing?

It's still a dangerous place for kids and I still recommend kids under 16 not having Facebook pages BUT... After many years of ignoring the safety and wellbeing of children who use their service (as well as their own rules and regulations), Facebook seems to finally be moving in the responsible direction.

Facebook just announced a concerted effort to revoke the memberships of underage users.  A preliminary investigation revealed over 20,000 users who do not meet Facebook's minimum age requirements (I know, I know...then why do they have profiles?  Don't get me started) that will be removed soon (if not already).  You can read about the effort on CNN.

Don't get too excited...Facebook currently has no plans to identify children who lie about their age in order to create a profile (which is what most kids do).  But at least they're enforcing rules that until now have been completely impotent.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thanks to SAFY

Yesterday I presented to an impressive group of people.  The organization was Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY).  For over 27 years, SAFY has been caring for children who are victims of neglect and abuse in their own homes. Headquartered in Delphos, Ohio, SAFY now has offices in eight states, focusing on treatment, intervention, adoption and the placement of children whose intensive needs cannot be managed through traditional foster care.  Their mission is to provide a loving home for children in need. Today, SAFY is expanding into communities across the nation by providing programs and services that go beyond therapeutic foster care.  Here is a link to their website.

It was a great experience to interact with people who offer so much charity and compassion to children in need.  I am very appreciative for the opportunity to present to them.  I encourage everyone to check out their website and learn more about the good they do.

Per my promise to the conference attendees, here is the presentation from the session.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Facebook Targets Cyber-bullying

It's about time!  I hope this isn't a lame attempt on their part to quell the criticism regarding how unsafe Facebook is for kids, or to jump on the Obama bandwagon, with his recent statement about cyber-bullying.  As much as I have complained about Facebook in recent years, this is a good move on their part.

Amar Toor form does a good job explaining the new features:

Facebook Introduces New Tools to Combat Cyberbullying

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Police chief: Hack your kids' Facebook passwords

Saw this article on NBC News a couple of days ago.  In summary, a police chief from a town in NJ is saying that parenting in the digital world can sometimes require extreme measures.  He points out that most parents run into problems with their kids online because they are naive and choose to remain that way.  Tough love in the digital world means knowing what your kids are doing: what sites they visit, who they talk to, and what they say.  Corporations install hidden software on their employees' computers to track every move they make.  Parents have that option as well, but it requires the investment of time and a willingness to shrug off apathy and naivete.

Here is the article:

I agree with this position but only as a last resort.  There is no substitute for good old fashioned communication between parents and children.  Set rules, create a mutual understanding and talk to your kids on a regular basis.  And if that doesn't work, then resort to more extreme measures.

Sorry for the Absence

Unfortunately a demanding and extremely time consuming project in my real job has kept me away from this blog for a few months.  My apologies.  You gotta put food on the table, you know?  Hopefully I have more time now and should be more frequent with my posts.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Facebook to Display Amber Alerts

Since I often have very negative things to say about Facebook with regards to child safety, I feel I also have to acknowledge when they make a move in the right direction.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Facebook is safe for your kids, but I do think that their latest addition is a good move.

As of now, you can receive Amber alerts for missing children on your Facebook page and on any Facebook connected mobile device.  It's a good idea but it could be improved.  The way it currently works, you have to sign up to receive the alerts.  I have to ask, if Facebook is willing to push advertisements I don't want to see onto my Facebook page without me signing up for them, why can't they push Amber alerts instead?  Give up one add space for the latest Amber alert.  But that would cost them money and we know Zuckerberg is barely scraping by.  Facebook claims the reason you have to sign up is so they know which states you want to receive alerts for, but they already know where I'm at every time I log in so why is the login required?

Anyway, it's not perfect, it could be better, but it's a good move.  Here is an article on CNN about it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Xbox Kinect and Family Safety

I've gotten a bunch of commetns and e-mails about the Kinnect since Christmas.  I definitely have some research to do.  In the mean time, here is a new Q&A from the Microsoft Xbox website.

What Family Settings do you provide to help me protect my child’s privacy and online safety? 
Family safety is a very high priority for us and there are several ways parents can help safeguard their child’s use of Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE, and Kinect. Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE already provide parents with strong controls to manage their family’s gaming experiences, and we extend those controls to Kinect. Family Settings consists of two types of settings: The first is Console Safety, where you can manage settings for all users of the console. Within the console, located at My Xbox >Family Settings, you can:
  • Decide what your kids can play, online and off. This includes content ratings for games, movies, and television shows.
  • Set a pass code to restrict who can change your Family Settings.
  • Set limits on console play time using the family timer.
The second is Online Safety, which is set for each individual Xbox LIVE profile. Parents for example can set controls for each child’s Xbox LIVE profile that are appropriate for their age and maturity level, including:
  • Decide what activities your kids can participate in online including multiplayer gaming, video chat, and voice or text messaging.
  • Decide who your kids can communicate with online.
  • Choose who can see your child’s profile or friends list, and what information they can see about others.
The Xbox LIVE sign-in is how each member of your family signs in to use Xbox LIVE. Online Safety Settings only apply when you or your child is using Xbox LIVE. If a child is a minor, parental permission is required for the child to obtain an Xbox LIVE account, and the Online Safety Settings that you established during account creation are applied every time your child signs in to the service. For more information on choosing and setting the right parental controls for your family visit