Readeo – a Cool Grandparent Tool Online

September 11, 2010

Sunday is Grandparents day. As you know, I rarely recommend a product or service, so something has to really dazzle me, and show the power for good that the internet represents, for it to happen.

Readeo exceeded that bar. The service’s ability to connect parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc through reading books together and face to face interaction over the internet is just phenomenal. I wish it was there when my kids were small.

This cool service allows you to stay in touch with kids in such a positive and connected way it’s a must for anyone who struggles to maintain a relationship with a child from a distance.

And I’m far from the only person to feel this way about the service; read what others are saying.

When I told Readeo’s Founder and CEO, Coby Neuenschwander, that I wanted to blog about the service, he made YOU an offer you can’t refuse:

Use the checkout code ilookbothways and Readeo will give any new user one month FREE

If you still aren’t sure, consider this: Readeo is running a grandparent challenge – any grandparent who tries their service with a grandchild and doesn’t like it (technology errors notwithstanding since we can’t control their internet speed or hardware) will receive $100.

In their own words, here’s the philosophy and functionality behind Readeo:

Many of us spend a lot of time away from children we love. As a result…, we set out to create a special experience that you can have with a special child from anywhere.

Through our patent-pending product, you can share story time with a child from anywhere as long as you both have high speed Internet and a webcam. We call it BookChatting and it has made the distance seem much shorter when we’re away. You might still miss… [your child/grandchild].. but you will hear “can we read another one dad, mom, or grandma, or grandpa, or uncle, or friend, or whoever you are?” and it will be the best thing you do all day—maybe all week.

While people use BookChat to connect with children from a distance, many people also use our site to discover books and read with children when they’re together as well. We have been lucky to have some of the best children’s book publishers believe in us and in our vision of keeping families connected. We add books to our site frequently and Jenny Brown, our editor and former children’s book reviews editor for Publisher’s Weekly, hand picks each book on the site.

Their selection of books to share is strong and growing, and the way Readeo works makes it far better than trying to accomplish the same, or even similar interaction over Skype

Do yourself, your child, or your parents a favor, try it. Give it to celebrate Grandparents Day.

[Note: I do not accept funding from this, or any company, for this website. My views and recommendations are entirely my own.]



Traveling This summer? Know What Cell Phone Laws Apply

July 21, 2010

Before crossing state or county lines on your summer road trip, take a moment to learn what the cell phone laws are for any area you plan on visiting.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, talking on a cell phone while driving is now illegal in 8 states, the District of Columbia and many jurisdictions, and texting while driving is banned for all users in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

States that ban talking on cell phones when driving include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington and the District of Columbia. In Utah, talking while driving is illegal only when the driver is also committing another moving violation other than speeding.

Even where states have not implemented bans, restrictions may apply by jurisdiction. Localities that have enacted restrictions on cell phone use include: Oahu, HI; Chicago, IL; Brookline, MA; Detroit, MI; Santa Fe, NM; Brooklyn, North Olmstead, and Walton Hills, OH; Conshohocken, Lebanon, and West Conshohocken, PA; Waupaca County, WI; and Cheyenne, WY.

States that ban texting when driving are highlighted in green on the map below, states shown in blue have restrictions for some driver segments, like young drivers and bus drivers. (For a full description of laws, see the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety‘s interactive maps)

Stay safe

Regardless of the legality of talking or texting while driving, numerous studies have made it clear that driving while talking on a cell phone (hand-held or hands-free), or texting significantly increases your accident risk. Consider the following stats:

  • Using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (Source: University of Utah)
  • Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. (Source: Carnegie Mellon)
  • Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than half a million were injured. (Source: NHTSA)
  • Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
  • The annual cost of crashes caused by cell phone use is estimated at $43 billion (Source: Harvard Center for Risk Analysis).

This summer, may your trips be distraction free and your memories unencumbered by accidents.


The Internet’s Red-light District Domain .XXX is Closer to Arriving, Will It Make a Difference?

July 2, 2010

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has finally bowed to pressure to reconsider creating a unique .xxx suffix for adult entertainment Web sites, in spite of objections from both religious groups and much of the adult entertainment industry ending a 10 year battle over what some consider formal acknowledgment of pornography’s prominent place on the Internet.

The move is intended to help parents filter out pornography sites for their children, and give a quality assurance to consumers of adult entertainment, but it does not force adult entertainment sites to use the new domain, and few adult-only sites are likely to give up their existing .com addresses.

The likelihood of the .xxx domain creation is a triumph for ICM Registry LLC, based in Florida, which had applied repeatedly for the domain, and previously been turned down three times since 2000. Their vision is that this will create a red-light district in cyberspace that is a clean, transparent area, regulated to be free of spam, viruses and credit card thieves.

Christian groups object to the .xxx domain out of concern that it will increase the amount of pornography online. Similarly, Diane Duke, executive director The Free Speech Coalition, a trade association representing more than 1,000 adult entertainment businesses, said “there is no support from our community ” for the plan due to concerns of  that the board overseeing the dot-xxx domain could engage in censorship and that the entire industry could come under increased regulation. “If the board doesn’t like what a producer creates, there is the possibility that they could censor it,” Ms. Duke said. “This will ghettoize our industry and make us a target of regulation.”

ICM stands to reap enormous financial gains from the .xxx domain; they will charge $60 per domain registration per year, with $10 going to a nonprofit organization promoting “responsible business practices” for the industry. (In comparison, a .com address costs just $7) ICM”s chairman said that over 100,000 domains had preregistered, and that he expects to have 500,000 sites registered on the .xxx domain by the time it’s rolled out in 9 to 12 months, representing roughly 10% of the five million to six million adult online sites.

The Free Speech coalition believes many of those registering are likely to be doing so “defensively” by businesses that wanted to prevent their names from being hijacked. Mr. Lawley said businesses could ensure that their names were not misused in the dot-xxx world by paying a one-time fee, to be set from $50 to $250.

ICANN, which governs Internet addresses, reversed a 2007 vote to reject the .xxx domains, that was based on technical grounds. Peter Dengate Thrush, the agency’s chairman, said they have no interest or stake in the content of Web sites. “The applicants believe that this will allow people to filter pornography more effectively,” he said. “If they do that and it works, that’s great for them. But that’s not part of our issue.” He shrugged off criticisms that ICANN was creating a new platform for Internet porn.  “We’re not in the content business, and that’s up to national governments and lawmakers and people who are qualified to make judgments,” he said.

Safety experts question the argument that this domain will help block adult content from minors. “If it is still going to be available on other domains, it just sounds ineffective” as a way of regulating adult content, said Cathy Wing, of Media Awareness Network, a Canadian nonprofit that advises parents and teachers about Web use. She also noted that filters are “easily bypassed” and would not stop children accessing porn.

ICANN agency now has to negotiate a final contract with ICM, while religious groups and the Free Speech coalition have vowed to continue their fight against the dot-xxx domains.

The bottom line? Should this domain be approved, it may accomplish the goal of providing a safer online experience for consumers of adult content, but don’t expect it to make a real difference in filtering out pornography for minors. The big winner will be ICM.


Gangs use of the Internet and Cell Phones

June 14, 2010

There are more than 20,000 gangs, with collectively over 1 million members in the United States. Gangs are present in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories, according to the Attorney General’s report to congress on the growth of violent street gangs in suburban areas (April 2008). Research by the Justice Department’s National Gang Intelligence Center estimates that 147,000 gang members sit in U.S. prisons or jails, and that criminal gangs are responsible for up to 80% of crimes committed in communities across the nation. 80 percent – it is hard to digest such an appalling statistic.

“Gangs have long posed a threat to public safety, but as this study shows, gang activity is no longer merely a problem for urban areas. Gang members are increasingly moving to suburban America, bringing with them the potential for increased crime and violence,” said Assistant Director Kenneth W. Kaiser, FBI Criminal Investigative Division. Gang members are migrating from urban to suburban and rural areas, expanding the gangs’ influence in most regions. They are doing so for a variety of reasons, including expanding drug distribution territories, increasing illicit revenue, recruiting new members, hiding from law enforcement, and escaping from other gangs.

Gangs, like organized crime rings, have taken to the Internet as a facilitator in sending messages to associates throughout the U.S. and other countries – including deported gang members, deliver threats, assert territorial boundaries that used to be scrawled as graffiti across buildings, fences, and signs, brag, and conduct ‘business’. Gang business includes drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution, weapons trafficking, smuggling illegal aliens across borders, murder, theft, fraud, armed robbery, auto theft home invasions, gang rapes, and more. (Source FBI 2009)

Gangs continue to recruit via traditional methods in their neighborhoods and through family members. law enforcement agencies report seeing 3rd generation gang members where grandfathers, fathers and sons are all members. The internet however has over the last 8 years increasingly become a key recruitment tool to help gangs expand, both in terms of territory (gangs are now are established in over 2,500 cities across the country) and the number of members in each gang.

Age of recruits continues to drop

Gang members are grooming recruits as young as 2nd graders according to a study sited in The Oklahoman (Nov 2009), though most frequently targeted are the tweeners in 5th – 7th grade age range. The link to schools is crucial to gangs not only for recruiting purposes, but also as a key drug distribution channel.

School infiltration is so valuable that law enforcement agencies several states report  gangs are directing teenage members who had dropped out of school to reenroll, primarily to recruit new members and sell drugs. These kids typically use cell phones to conduct drug transactions and prearrange meetings with customers.

The most recent statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education only shows data through 2005, but we should expect to see stark increases in their next biennial report. “We’re seeing the gang members coming back from prison looking more and more to those middle schoolers and the younger kids to recruit them,” said Susan Manheimer San Mateo Police Chief, who speaks for the San Mateo County gang task force.

Gang outreach and ‘style’

Gang leaders know kids socialize on sites such as Facebook and YouTube, and they are actively reaching out through popular online services to create a new generation of gang members. They describe gang life as glamorous, and seductive. Recruiters tell of a life of power, leisure, and wealth, and instant gratification, as well as a ‘family’ and a sense of belonging and acceptance that many kids desperately want. They glorify the danger and the excitement.

Gangs have pushed hard to make gang clothing a fashion statement to such an extent that Gang apparel can be seen everywhere as a fashion statement for young people – on MTV and other teen sites and stations. They use images of rap artists like Snoop Dogg, and promote music with gang themes, violence and attire. Many of today’s youth who are not connected with gangs wear the gang styles and colors because of the cool factor, certainly wearing the fashion does not make a kid a gang member. However, wearing gang fashion can have tragic consequences when kids are mistaken for being a member of a rival gang. (See what happens when your clothing makes you look like a gang member links below)

Gang Websites

For the most part, gangs use the same sites everyone else does – MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and so on.

There are tens of thousands of websites, message boards and chatrooms created by gang members or young gang wanna be’s. These ‘web-banging’, ‘cyberbanging’ ‘netbanging’ ‘phone-banging’ sites are typically set to public viewing, and are places to hang out online like everyone else – but with the gangsta cult and violence highly glorified through photos, music, gang signs, guns, tats, colors, videos, etc. They frequently contain memorials to gang members who have been killed or are incarcerated.

The videos and photos posted may just be about the ‘life’, but they frequently include documentation of crimes they want to brag about – beatings, robberies, graffiti, etc. where everyone in the video has their face covered to avoid identification (though the bragging they do online has helped solve several cases). The sites are also used to trash rivals and convey threats and intimidate ‘bystanders’.

The fact that so many identify themselves on their sites makes they relatively easy prey to predators or rival gangs who can quickly profile them and these websites also become a new battle ground – a turf to defend from being trashed or hijacked. Hacking into and disrespecting a rival gang’s site is just one more field of engagement.  The threats and disrespect exchanged online are creating a new cause for offline violence as gang members settle disagreements that started online.

Gang sites often use a kind of cryptic language that has evolved between gang members enabling them to convey messages on public sites through language and inferences that others will not understand. (See links to typical sites at the bottom – though when you read this, the links may or may not still be in use as these sites change frequently)

The actual number of hard-core gang sites is hard to estimate, but is assumed to be only a couple of thousand.  These sites are private and much harder to monitor. These are used to plan crimes – the kills and raids on rivals, and the long list of crimes cited above, plus provide a place to brag about their past crimes and document the gang’s ‘history’.

At risk kids

Impressionable youth of either gender can find the secret handshakes, clothing and slang of gang cultures commonly found on gang-affiliated websites, appealing. They may start out in their online exploration of gangs with just an interest in the music, or pictures lauding street gangs, or the gangsta fashion, yet their online actions make it more likely they will be approached for recruiting – online and offline.

Some are drawn to gangs through parties, girls, and drugs. Some want a sense of respect and power. Others want to make money — to help out at home or to have nice clothes, etc.  They may be kids who feel adrift – disconnected at home – lacking in positive role models, or who have few friends or perhaps have moved frequently. The kids may be angry or rebellious and want to lash out. They may grow up in an area with a strong gang presence and gang culture. They may already be in trouble with the law, or are looking for a thrill. Some join for protection because they are picked on by another gang. Most have some real or imagined problem with their families that makes the streets preferable to being home.

It may begin with participation on a wanna-be site where the conversation seems innocuous, but then arguments arise, threats are made and kids are caught in an escalation they had not intended.  “The type of profiling they’re doing of themselves makes them prey to predators and also at odds with and challenging other gangs,” said Manheimer. “So, we’ll see something start on the Internet, and actually turn into an assault or a gang fight that actually results out of Internet profiling.”

Kids drawn to the content posted online that glorifies the gang lifestyle are being invited to parties where the real recruitment and initiation occurs. Most recruits want to be ‘cool’, some young enough to believe that killing is just an extension of the video games they play. Gangs groom these kids with ‘respect’, bling, and attention – something most are missing in their lives.

These young recruits are particularly useful to gangs for a couple of key reasons, they don’t place much value on life and they are hard to identify as they have no prior criminal histories; even if caught their age keeps them out of the worst legal responses.

Cell phones

Cell phones have become as essential to gang members as they are to organized crime groups.  Gangs members may have several prepaid phones and calling cards to ensure their calls are untraceable for any communications about criminal activities, and easily disposable.  They use encrypted internet technologies like VoiceOverIP (VoIP) on products like Skype on their mobile phones or computers to avoid wiretapping – making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to track their actions or crimes.

Gangs use cell phones cameras and video to document crimes or collect information for future crimes, and use GPS coordinate attacks and crimes, as well as surreptitiously monitor those they think might be ratting them out.

They use cell phones to assist in robberies, for extortion, as evidence of accomplished hits, to arrange drug deals, set up transactions, prostitute girls and boys, commit identity theft, and more. Gangs have been known to place a member inside a bank, (or near an ATM, or any other place that cash is transacted) to take photos of likely victims and watch to see who withdraws large sums, then send it to another gang member sitting outside the banks to identify the victim to follow and rob.

Gangs also use cell phones to communicate with members behind bars, allowing incarcerated gang leaders to continue to conduct business, and for members outside to request hits against rivals also serving time. Though cell phones are illegal, prisons appear to have a very hard time of preventing them from getting into the hands of incarcerated gang members.

What to look for

According to the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the best defense against gangs begins in the home. Family conversations are critical to debunk the perceived glamour and show gang life for the thuggery it represents. Keeping kids out of gangs in real life now has to include teaching them to avoid becoming targets of propaganda in the virtual world.

In addition to conversations, experts advise watching for the following gang signs:

  • Gang insignia downloaded onto their phones, websites, clothing – this can include what appear to be Major League Baseball logos for the Giants or Yankees, which have been modified to represent gangs.
  • Ringtones or songs glorifying gangs and violence – on cell phones or web pages
  • Pictures of gang leaders or dead gang members
  • Gang colors, or other gang images – this means educating yourself about the colors and signs of gangs in your area
  • Requests for tattoos – or simply showing up with tattoos – or ear piercing (of course, ear piercing alone may be simple fashion statements unrelated to gangs)
  • Gang style cloths, bandanas, gang related jewelry – or perhaps suddenly tilting their baseball cap to one side, or rolling up the cuff of a pant leg. Gang branding may be more subtle in the beginning, are their gang symbols inside their hats or collars?
  • New gang-looking friends, secrecy about friends, sneaking out
  • Change of language – new nickname, phrases you are unfamiliar with,
  • Involvement in any criminal activity – graffiti, vandalism, theft, drugs, etc.
  • Change in interests, grades dropping, cutting school
  • Has your child been injured—boys are often beaten and girls raped as part of their initiation into a gang.

If it looks like your child is headed down the wrong path, get help.  If you are afraid your kid is in a gang, they probably are.

Useful Articles

Links to gang related public sites – most is just art, photos and music, but they give a flavor of this kind of mentality.  (Note that these sites change all the time, these may become obsolete quickly, but even the names are illustrative)


Gangster Disciples



Brothers of Struggle

People Nation




Vice Lords

Examples of Gangsta Videos

1 in 5 New Relationships Begin on an Online Dating Site

June 3, 2010

According to new research commissioned by people are using online dating services to meet new people in ever increasing numbers: 1 in 5 singles have dated someone they met on an online dating site, 1 in 5 new relationships now begin on an online dating site, and 1 in 6 couples getting married first met on an online dating site.

For couples getting married, that statistic places online dating sites third in ways to meet a partner – behind school/work and friends/family, but ahead of bars, clubs, social events, and through their places of worship.

According to the research here’s the breakdown on where people who’ve married in the past three years met their spouses:

  • Through Work/School 36%
  • Through Friend/Family Member 26%
  • Via Online Dating Site 17%
  • Through Bars/Clubs/Other Social Events 11%
  • Through their Church/Place of Worship 4%
  • Other 7%

Online dating has only been around for about 15 years. But those 15 years have done more to change how couples meet than the preceding 2,000 years. Amazing. Just be sure to follow the Eleven safety tips for online dating and discover who you’ll meet.


Misguided Bill Wants to Stop Predators on Social Networking Sites

March 2, 2010

California state Senator George Runner has proposed a bill that would ban convicted sex offenders from creating profiles on social networking sites. This is similar bills passed in New York, Illinois, and to several being considered in several other states.

While these laws sound like motherhood and apple pie, they are misguided and will not accomplish the objective. The intent behind this law is easy to understand. We need to address public safety in the face of sharply increasing numbers of registered sex offenders. The issue is how best to accomplish this.

Unfortunately, this law fails to consider fundamental distinctions between what constitutes a social network, how this law balances the punishments meted to sex offenders vs. other types of serious online criminals, the problematic issues around which individuals become labeled as sex offenders, and so on.

The term ’social network’ is undefined

Making it a felony for sexual predators to join social networking sites that are designed for children and teens, for dating, or specifically designed to meet vulnerable people is one thing, but this law takes an entirely undifferentiated and draconian approach by including all sites with any social networking functionality. and eBay, for example, are social networks that enable people to have profiles, post comments, and more. Sites that enable job searches like LinkedIn and are social networks, (see How the Web Has Changed Job Searching for more on the critical role social networks play in job hunting).

Support sites for sex offenders, sites that facilitate communication with family members, sites that allow comments such as newspapers, sites sharing information on products, hobbies, music, and so on, are all social networking sites. Moreover, the dynamic nature of the web is driving ever more sites to enable social interactions.

As the law now stands, it will make it more difficult for sex offenders to find jobs, apartments, or get support to help prevent re-offending, according to the Center for Sex Offender Management, a project of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Dept of Justice. Their research found that steady employment and support are key factors in reducing recidivism risks; the unintended consequence of the law may actually be an increase in the risks posed to society.

Lawmakers need to spend more time considering the differences in social networking sites and, at a bare minimum, craft laws with a more precise definition of what types of social sites should be illegal for sex offenders.

Sex offenders are one type of criminal threatening consumers online

Given the intent of the law is to protect innocent individuals online, shouldn’t this law also ban other types of serious criminals that use social networking sites to facilitate their crimes – like scammers, stalkers, ID thieves, and so on? While the Internet is predominantly a safe and positive place for users of all ages, Internet criminals wreak considerable harm, stealing consumers’ life-savings, their identities, and in some cases killing victims they met online. Sex offenses are heinous crimes, but should murderers get lesser penalties?

The vast majority of convicted sex offenders did not use social networks (or the Internet) in the commission of their crimes. This law assumes that though most sex offenders did not use social networks to find or groom their victims, they will do so in the future. If the individual did not use social networking sites, is it reasonable to ban them?

The changes add fuel to the debate over how sex offenders are defined

Changing the law to prohibit sex offenders from using social networking sites does not alter the scope of who is labeled a “sex offender”, but it has reignited the debate over how broadly the label is applied. There is broad concern that the law as it stands is unjust because it does not differentiate between serial child rapists, and for example, a person caught three times relieving him/herself behind a tree. Public indecency for a third or subsequent conviction labels a person as a sex offender. Some are inappropriately caught under this label and they do not deserve to have their names and photos exposed on sex offender registries, or to be shunned by society.

The problem worsens as we look across states. Many states dump the sex offender label on individuals as diverse as rapists, pedophiles, exhibitionists, and teens that had consensual sex, or that sent explicit images of themselves to a boy/girlfriend, etc. Surely, no one believes these are equivalent behaviors, or that those caught in these varying circumstances should be treated equally.

The law also fails to take into account the varying likelihood of re-offense. Despite public anxiety, research shows that different categories of sex offenders pose widely different degrees of risk of re-offending.

According to the Center for Sex Offender Management, a project of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Dept of Justice, recidivism rates can be high for some types of sex offenders but even with elevated risk levels they strongly caution against viewing them as a homogeneous group.

Highlighting the disparity in recidivism rates among segments of sex offenders, Marshall and Barbaree (1990) found in their review of studies that the recidivism rate for:

  • Incest offenders ranged between 4 and 10 percent.
  • Rapists ranged between 7 and 35 percent.
  • Child molesters with female victims ranged between 10 and 29 percent.
  • Child molesters with male victims ranged between 13 and 40 percent.

Beyond categorizing sex offenders by the type of offense they committed, a complex set of variables determine who, within each category, is likely to re-offend. Factors include whether the offender received treatment, the age of the offender, whether they are employed, the type of sexual deviance, their psychological stability, whether they are substance abusers, and so on. The current one-size-fits all policy towards those labeled simply doesn’t fit.

The issues I’ve listed about this particular approach do not pretend to cover other aspects like legality, jurisdiction, enforceability, etc. that will surely be wrestled over, but they should raise concern in the minds of the public as to the justness of this law.

Indeed, in a 2008 brief on state sex offender management policies, Thomas MacLellan, program director for the justice and public safety program of the National Governors Association, outlined challenges facing states. “People try to do the right things, but states don’t always have the capacity to look at all the research,” he said. “A lot of decisions will be made on consensus.”

There are sexual predators using the Internet to find new victims, and the intent to help protect individuals from such offenders online is good. This particular legislation however will not achieve that goal.


Additional Resources:

Mitigate Risks When Using Shortened URL’s

February 11, 2010

Lengthy URLs are hard to share with others, difficult (if not impossible) to remember, are more likely to break in emails, and can simply be too long to fit into short messaging sites like Twitter – which limits posts to 140 characters. To solve all these issues, several great free programs are available to shorten URL’s.

Of course, criminals are not stupid. Internet tools that are helpful for good users can be even handier for crooks. Spammers, scammers, ID thieves, etc. use URL shortening tools in hopes of increasing your likelihood of landing on their malicious sites.

For example, if you received an email, or saw a posting saying “hey, check out these cool cartoons” and saw the URL you were directed to click on was http://let-me-give-you-a-nasty-virus, you wouldn’t click on it. However, if the URL was shortened to look like, you might not take the same care – even though it takes you to the exact same malicious site.

To reap the benefits of shortened URL’s without falling victim to criminals, stick to the advice that you only click on links from trusted sources, or on trusted sites – or find the site yourself. The trick is how to find out what site is hidden behind that shortened URL begin testing it for safety….

Below are the instructions for creating a shortened URL, AND for discovering the safety of a shortened URL:

Creating a shortened URL:

  1. Begin by selecting a URL shortening service like TinyURL, Doiop,, ReadthisURL,, or
  2. Enter the full length URL into the specified field
  3. Create a short name (optional in some, not available in other products)
  4. Then, press the button to generate the new, shorter version

My personal favorite URL shortener is because it offers two great features. (Note: my views are my own, I do not accept remuneration to promote any service) The first great feature is the ability to customize your shortened URL, which is a whole lot more intelligible than the automatically generated random number and letter sequences the service creates on its own.

The second great feature is their preview option. Though it adds 8 additional characters, using the preview feature allows recipients to see the original URL of the site they will be taken to if they proceed. See the example here:

Discovering the safety of a Shortened URL:

If the shortened URL was created using TinyURL, and the creator used the preview feature, click on the preview link. It will take you to a landing page that shows the full URL address (see image). You can compare this to the original URL in the previous image and see they are a match.

To discover where other shortened links are going to take you requires using an “UNshortening tool”, several of which are also free.

If you frequently consider clicking on shortened links, installing a free tool like UnShortenEmAll, TinyURL Decoder Expand url shortening service urls make a lot of sense, these will either automatically display the URLs in their original form, or show you the real URL if you hover over them. All of these require that you download a Greasemonkey plugin to your Firefox browser to run, but they’re easy to install and use.

If you only occasionally consider clicking on shortened links, the website may be just right for you. To use it, simply enter in the shortened URL, and it will return the real location as shown in the image below:

Keep in mind that simply discovering the full URL, does not mean the site is legitimate – it just means you’re ready to use standard methods for determining the safety of a site

Steer don’t be pulled. Once you have found the proper URL, use a search engine – combined with a malware filter like McAfee’s Site Advisor (it’s free) to be sure the site is legitimate before clicking the link.

In the example above, you see that full URL behind the link To check the safety of this website, I copied and pasted this text into the SEARCH box (not address field) of your search engine and looked to see two things. 1) The site exists, and 2) the site has been tested by McAfee Site Advisor’s malware filters and found to be safe (the little green check mark next to each result is how McAfee’s tool shows the safety or risk level of tested sites.)

Keep your computer protected at all times using anti-virus, anti-spam, and anti-phishing tools and follow these simple safety steps when navigating to websites to have a safer, more enjoyable online experience.