How to Remove Images of Your Home from Google’s Street View

June 20, 2010

If you are among the millions of people who feel that Google has overstepped your privacy by posting street views of your home, car, or family members, you can do something about it.

Here’s how to get the photos taken down:

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Linda

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“Framework for a Safe Internet:

October 20, 2009

Know the facts, understand the issues, shape the future.”

The Safe Internet Alliance, today hosted a Capitol Hill educational event and discussion entitled,

The event featured three expert panels of a diverse group of panelists, from technology and software companies including AOL and Microsoft to industry associations like the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

The event commenced with a keynote speech from Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour of the Federal Trade Commission who stressed the importance of cross-collaboration between the government and private sector in developing safe Internet initiatives. In her speech Commissioner Harbour also highlighted emerging crime patterns against consumers online and different methods of user empowerment.

The three panels explored perspectives of internet users in the U.S., online risks and cyber crime in the U.S., ways to make the Internet safe and the emerging technologies  that will offer to aid in creating a safe Internet.

“Safe Internet Alliance launched in May, to bring together the many voices and stakeholders involved in online safety and cyber security issues,” said Linda Criddle, president of Safe Internet Alliance. “Today’s event provided a platform for experts in Internet safety and security to share their knowledge, increase public awareness and highlight the demand for a safe Internet.”

“Having an accurate, collective understanding of the Internet’s opportunities is critical to creating a framework where the industry, organizations, lawmakers and consumers can meaningfully address concerns around privacy, safety and security,” Criddle continued. “We hope after today’s event that the members of Congress, Congressional staff, and public who attended understand this and will consider the Safe Internet Alliance an umbrella resource for any issue related to creating a safe Internet across the full spectrum of online services.”


As Online Dating Grows, So do Scams

October 18, 2009

Online dating can claim some remarkable results:

  • There are now about 1,400 online dating sites in North America.
  • In 2007 one in eight married couples met first online, that number continues to increase.
  • 40% of the US single population now uses online dating sites, roughly equal to 40 million people, according to Match.com,
  • Match.com grows by 60,000 new members daily.
  • Americans who search for love online spend over 2 hours a night talking to prospective dates
  • Over $500 million dollars have been spent so far this year on internet dating sites according to Iovation.
  • Forrester Research reports that online dating is now the third largest producer of revenue out of all paid content sites, generating $957 million in 2008; a figure the firm predicts will grow 10 percent by 2013.

That’s a lot of people representing a lot of money.

When done with caution, online dating can be safer than meeting people in the “real” world because you have more time to get to know someone before meeting him or her in person. I personally know many happy couples who would never have met their spouses had it not been for online dating sites.

But dating online requires you take steps to protect yourself…

Predators follow their prey

As in any environment, abusers, criminals and predators follow wherever potential victims can be found, and with the number of online daters soaring, it should come as no surprise that crooks from around the world are hard on dater’s heels.

Last month Google found that search terms like “online dating” and “free dating” are getting the most hits from fraudsters in African countries, and police forces around the world are bracing for an explosion in scams as East African countries move from dialup to broadband speeds in June 2010 allowing African scammers to rival counterparts in former soviet block western countries.

Common progression in a dating scam

  1. The scammer posts an attractive photo (stolen) and fake profile on a dating website.
  2. Scammer sends a mass message to members with canned text.
  3. If the scammer gets a reply, they begin showing interest in the victim and ask if the victim wants to know more about the scammer.
  4. At some point the scammer will share their email address in an attempt to get the victim out of the monitored dating environment and away from any safeguards that help protect the victim’s identity. They may want to converse via IM, phone calls, even webcams. They may suggest sexually explicit interactions via web cam or compromising photos of the victim for resale and/or blackmail later.
  5. Conversations progress until the scammer believes they have secured the victim’s trust and emotions, and then begin introducing a story about how they are having difficulties and need your help in some way. The story will be customized to further gain sympathy and affection from the victim.
  • At some point the scammer will ask for money (sent as cash, money orders, merchandise, or currency exchange through a service like Western Union). Or suggest you pay for a plane ticket so you can meet, or ask you to accept shipment of items to forward to someone else, or to cash a check for them and place the money in a specific account (you’ll be stuck when the check bounces and you have to cover the cost).
  • As long as the victim continues to believe, the scammer will keep asking for money. In some cases victims loose tens of thousands of dollars.

Learn more about romance scams at RomanceScams.org

Not all dating are equal when it comes to protecting your safety.

The first rule of thumb is to trust your instincts when interacting with a potential date. Select your online dating service carefully. Look for an established, popular site with plenty of members and a philosophy that matches your own.

Some sites do extensive background screening, have active moderation teams watching for scams, and strict privacy measures to help protect you, others have no such safeguards in place. I can’t recommend a site that offers you no protection. With 1,400 online dating sites to choose from, select what works for you.
Follow these safety tips:

  1. Maintain anonymity to protect your identity. Don’t include your full name, phone number, where you work, or detailed location information in your profile or during early communications with potential dates. Stop communicating with anyone who presses you for this type of information.
  2. Use the e-mail system provided by the dating service rather than your own e-mail address to maintain your privacy.
  3. Be smart about choosing profile pictures. Make sure your photos reflect what you want to say about yourself. Provocative pictures may attract the wrong people. Make sure that your images do not contain identifying information such as nearby landmarks or a T-shirt with your school or company logo.
  4. Check to see if a potential date has a good reputation among other daters on the service.
  5. Be realistic. Read the profiles of others with skepticism. As you correspond or talk on the phone, ask questions, seek direct answers, and note any inconsistencies. Look for danger signs such as a display of anger, an attempt to control you, disrespectful comments, or any physically threatening or otherwise unwelcome behavior.
  6. If a person becomes abusive, report it and block that person from contacting you again using the dating site settings.
  7. When you decide to meet, create a safe environment. Keep first dates short, and agree to meet in a public place during a busy time of day, Make sure somebody knows where you’re going. If your date doesn’t look like his or her photo, walk away and report that person to the dating service.
  8. If a date asks you for a loan or any financial information, no matter how sad the hard luck story, it is virtually always a scam and you should report it.

With dating scams increasing, you simply can’t afford to date online without knowing how to spot and avoid risks.

Linda


Have a Problem With A Website? Get Real People on the Phone

October 3, 2009

If you have a problem with an online service, sometimes filling in a web form and hoping for a response just isn’t enough. Trying to navigate through a phone tree is frustrating, and calling a customer service phone number can put you in an automated operator nightmare.

Fortunately, help is just a website away

Several websites specialize in providing you the phone numbers you need – if the company provides a phone support service at all. Facebook and Google for example don’t appear to accept consumer calls.

Contact Help http://www.contacthelp.com

Contact help provides phone numbers and short cuts to circumvent phone trees for a variety of government agencies and companies.

For example they list the following information for:

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MySpace

Phone: 310-969-7400

How to reach a live person: Just press 4 when recording begins

Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri: 8am-6pm PST

Email: support@myspace.com

YouTube

Phone: 866-246-6453

How to reach a live person: Press 2 at first menu

Hours of Operation: Mon-Thurs: 7am – 7pm PT, Fri: 7am – 6pm PT

Contact Help also reports that Facebook does not allow the public to reach them via phone: (there is a number that law enforcement can use)

Facebook

Phone: 650-543-4800  How to reach a live person:

Facebook does not currently offer telephone support. You can press 0 to leave a message, but not sure what that does.

Email: info@facebook.com

Get Human

http://www.gethuman.com/us/

Get Human provides phone number, navigation shortcuts, and consumer comments about the experience they had with the company. This graphic shows the Get Human search results for Google – and dissatisfied customer comments.

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Dial A Human

http://www.dialahuman.com/

Dial a human provides a Company listing, phone numbers and instructions for reaching real people, but it is irritating that you can’t just enter a company name and search.

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If the company you need to contact doesn’t provide you the phone service you deserve, let them – and your friends, and friends of friends, and the general public – hear your frustration.

Linda


Driving While Texting Video Raises Needed Debate

August 26, 2009

dwt1If you are not familiar with the text message shortcut DWT (Driving While Texting), a new public service announcement may just make it part of your vocabulary.

The video Texting While Driving was created by a small police department in Wales has created a stir due to the graphic violence portrayed in some scenes. Posted on YouTube, and other sites, the video has apparently been viewed more than a million times worldwide.

While some consider the 4-minute video too graphic, others applaud the stark reality check it gives teens.  It will be interesting to see if it has any real or lasting effect on the attitudes and actions of drivers. Let’s hope so.

Drivers who text behind the wheel have a 23 x greater risk of crashing, according to an as yet unpublished report by The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. The institute looked a variety of driver scenarios and found that drivers who take their eyes off the road for any of a variety of activities, such as answering a phone call, were more likely to get into a crash or near crash. But by far, the most dangerous—and potentially lethal—activity was text-messaging.

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Compounding the concerns about driving and texting risks is the frequency in which it occurs. A survey by Vlingo found that 26% of the 5,000 US users surveyed text while they drive. Unsurprisingly, the survey found that a larger percentage of young inexperienced drivers are texting away while behind the wheel. They found that 60% of those ages 16-19 and 49% of those 20-29 admit to texting while driving. The percentages get smaller for older respondents, but usage remains high with 13% of those in their 50s admitting to doing so.

Another study, conducted by The Allstate Foundation and National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS), found that 83% of teens admit that texting while driving is dangerous, in spite of this, 80% of girls and 58% of boys do so anyway.

“Car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death and injuries for teens in the United States. Unfortunately, many young drivers know distracted driving is dangerous, but choose to take those risks when behind the wheel,” said Sandy Spavone, executive director of NOYS.

Seventeen states currently have laws that ban texting while driving, and this may soon become a nationwide requirement.  Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y and Robert Menendez of D-NJ, Mary Landrieu of D-LA and Kay Hagan D-NC unveiled legislation at the end of July proposing to cut funds for highways in states that fail to ban texting while driving.

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AAA Colorado publishes the following Tips to Prevent Text Messaging while Driving

Tips for Teens

  • Don’t be tempted: turn off your cell phone. Let voicemail capture your voice and text messages.
  • If you have to call or text while driving, pull off the road safely and stop.
  • Recognize that text messaging can be a habit. Get support from your friends by letting them know you are working on breaking the texting habit.
  • If you think you will still be tempted to text and drive, put your phone somewhere you can’t reach it, like the trunk.
  • Take control of your cell phone, don’t let it control you. You are the only one who decides when and if you send and read a text message.

Tips for Parents

  • Don’t call/text your teen at times when you know they are likely to be driving
  • Review your teen’s cell phone bill with them to see if they are texting at times they are likely to be driving. Share this information with your teen.
  • Establish family rules that prohibit texting while driving.
  • Set a good example, don’t text and drive.

It is time to talk about DWT with those you love.

Additional resources:

Linda


Online Games May be Good for Your Health

August 24, 2009

Researchers found that volunteers who played Bejeweled displayed improved mood and heart rhythms compared with volunteers who did not play according to a preliminary study commissioned and funded by PopCap. PopCap embarked on the study after a woman contacted them and said that playing games was a big help in getting her through the nights when she was struggling with depression.

Game companies are looking at ways in which they can expand their markets based on the concept that depression – and daily stress – follows regular thought processes. They believe that games can help people get out of these mental states and into a more positive mood. This effect of playing simple games to relieve stress isn’t new or limited to online, or on device games, as anyone who does crossword puzzles or Sudoku can readily recognize.

Carmen Russoniello, who directs the psychophysiology lab and biofeedback clinic at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., said he has found that certain games allow people to fall into a rhythm where they can play without either effort or boredom, and that some games seem to reduce the heightened tension that is a natural response to stress. He explains that when Type A people try to relax, they get bored because they have come to require a certain level of stressful arousal. Playing certain video games offers just enough mental challenge to keep them occupied while putting them into a state of relative mindlessness – which appears to have positive effects on stress, depression and other mental problems.

So the next time your husband/wife/child/friend complains you are spending too much time playing games, you may be able to say it’s just what the doctor ordered.

To read the full Washington Post article, click Rx: Xbox?

Linda


Social Networking Site Usage Upheaval

August 13, 2009

What a difference a year makes. MCMarketingCharts has just released new stats on who ranks where in the top 10 Social Networking Websites and Forums.

  • MySpace plummeted
  • Classmates fell off the top 10 entirely, as did Craigslist – I’m hoping to see Craigslist replaced by the significantly more socially responsible online classified site Oodle soon.
  • Twitter appeared from nowhere, and Tagged jumped from tenth to fourth

What does this tell you? Consumers wield tremendous power online. YOU decide which companies live or die. It isn’t coincidence that MySpace and Craigslist – two brands closely associated with rampant abuse – took a beating as you let your opinion of their failure to protect you shine through.

Website owners take note: Consumer Safety and Respect matter.

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