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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: