New Online Safety Lesson: Texting and Driving Don’t Mix

April 19, 2012

The 15th installment in the lesson series I’m writing on behalf of iKeepSafe, looks at distracted driving. Would you let someone cover your eyes for two seconds while you were driving? No way.

But teens will be surprised to learn that if they are on the freeway going 65 mph, a quick two-second glance to read a text means they have driven nearly two-thirds of a football field without looking. And those precious seconds can kill them, their passengers or the people in other vehicles.

More than 3,000 people died, and thousands more were injured, due to distracted driving in 2010 alone.

This lesson discusses eye-opening statistics on the perils of distracted driving and alerts teens to the hazards of looking away from the road, plus offers tips for avoiding the temptation of phone use while driving.

To see and use this lesson, the companion presentation, professional development materials, and parent tips click here: TXT + DRV = Total Fail.



New Online Safety Lesson: Using Twitter Wisely

February 3, 2012

The 10th installment in the lesson series I’m writing on behalf of iKeepSafe, focuses on teens and Twitter use.

Teens are increasingly turning to Twitter as an alternative or addition to other social media platforms. Like any technology, it has its own language, culture… and risks. How are teens using Twitter and how can they minimize privacy concerns? While you can make your Twitter account “private,” or even use a pseudonym, others may still be watching-including peers, school officials, parents, and even Homeland Security.

As we learn to integrate new technologies into our everyday lives, students and professionals alike grapple with the thorny questions of the boundaries surrounding freedom of speech, appropriate speech, and content censoring. Read on for a primer on Twitter-speak, and find out who’s Twittering… and who’s reading.

To see and use this lesson, the companion presentation, professional development materials, and parent tips click here: Using Twitter Wisely 


New Online Safety Lesson: What does data privacy mean to you?

January 30, 2012

The 9th installment in the lesson series I’m writing on behalf of iKeepSafe, is timed to coincide with Data Privacy Day. This week, more than 40 countries will celebrate Data Privacy Day. It is a day designed to promote awareness about the many ways personal information is collected, stored, used, and shared, and education about privacy practices that will enable individuals to protect their personal information.

To view and use this lesson, the companion presentation, professional development materials, and parent tips click here: What does data privacy mean to you?


Welcome Outcome from Forum on the Privacy Concerns of New Internet Users

August 14, 2011

Consumers need greater education, choices and protection in order to address their privacy concerns, particularly those who are more recent adopters such as African Americans and other people of color, seniors, and low-income populations was the consensus opinion at the The New Digital Profile: Managing Privacy in an Evolving, Mobile Internet forum hosted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“This forum comes at a moment in time when people of color are increasing their use of broadband applications and services, but also when privacy concerns appear to be of utmost concern to those who have moved online only recently,” said Ralph B. Everett, President and CEO of the Joint Center. “With broadband having such enormous potential to boost opportunity in communities of color, it becomes even more important to include new adopters of technology in the conversation on privacy and how to address these concerns.”

How we achieve this goal however is less clear. Panel members underscored the critical need for greater education to raise awareness and transparency about data collection, but consumers are facing a double threat to this education:

  1. School funding has been slashed as a result of the economic morass the country finds itself in, while at the same time districts are being measured more tightly against test scores.
    1. Unfortunately, technology isn’t a test subject so funding shortfalls have cut heavily on tech teachers and computer labs.

Learn more about the state of technology in schools in my recent posts U.S. Far behind in Integrating Technology in Schools and Educators Lack Training; Don’t Teach Online Safety.

To understand the dire straits schools are in, check out the text boxes in this article. These are requests for funds shown on the DonorsChoose website. (DonorsChoose is an online charity connecting potential donors and classrooms in need and I highly recommend their work).

Exactly how are schools that are priced out of technology supposed to step up to the panel’s recommendation of greater education?

  1. Corporate funding to nonprofits has also been slashed due to economic struggles. This means that not only are schools unable to train teachers, and maintain robust computer access, nonprofits cannot step in to fill the void.

Right to transparency and privacy

The other key outcome from the conference was addressing consumers’ concerns and right to privacy.

Citing a 2010 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study, forum panelists agreed that online privacy policies should be more accessible to consumers, even on mobile devices, and companies should be more transparent in the data being collected.

The referenced FCC study found nearly 100 million Americans do not use broadband (1/3rd of the population), and the reason nearly half of these non-broadband adopters remain offline in part because they fear “all the bad things that can happen on the Internet”.  (To learn more about the FCC’s study, see my article Broadband Adoption Jumps to 75 Percent of US Consumers).

“Concerns about privacy can potentially prohibit broadband adoption among people living in the communities that can benefit most from what broadband can do to advance learning, opportunity, and quality of life,” said Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center. “How we address these concerns needs to align technology innovation, consumer trust and education, especially to assure new Internet users and non-adopters that the web is a safe space.”

Danny Sepulveda, Senior Advisor to U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) added to these comments saying, “Regardless of how and what you access, you should have the right to know what is being collected, and for what purpose. At the end of the day, we need a comprehensive code of conduct.”

Again, how to achieve these goals was less clear. While many legislators see legislation as the solution, industry leaders are less enamored with a code of conduct preferring to use ‘industry norms and ground rules”.

As a longtime online safety, security, privacy and technology advocate, I just happen to have a couple of solutions :-0.


There is no getting around the need for computers, laptops, handhelds, and other technology tools in schools, and I can only encourage the federal government, states, school districts and the public to make technology adoption a priority. Once those technologies are in place, the second hurdle, as outlined in Educators Lack Training; Don’t Teach Online Safety, is getting quality teaching about technology into schools.

To drive this forward we created the LOOKBOTHWAYS Foundation whose sole mission is to deliver an expert driven, top quality, interactive curriculum called NetSkills4Life that is free of charge to every school, organization, family and individual. There are three lessons per grade, and no hoops to jump through to use the curriculum; and because it is immersive, parents, teachers, students all have the same experience.

While it is nice if teachers have the skills to expand on the lessons (and we provide additional resources and suggestions for them to do so) we built the lessons knowing that most teachers and parents lack the skills needed so the lessons are created to independently deliver the learning needed.

The caveat to this is that we are building out the lessons as quickly as funding makes possible. The first lessons are created using earmarked funds targeting the 6-8th grades, so to check out the lessons, look in the 5th and 6th and the 7th -9th  grade sections. We will have the first 6 lessons complete in October. If you wish to help fund additional lessons, by all means, contact us!

Consumer rights

For longtime followers, you know I have been championing a ‘bill of rights’ for consumers online for many years. Over time these have morphed slightly to meet new technology needs, and to be more palatable to industry members.

The latest version (below) was crafted in 2010 while I was president of the Safe Internet Alliance. We undertook at that time to bring the industry players to a common understanding of best practices for safeguarding consumers and their privacy. That initiative did not bear fruit, but I remain convinced that consumers will not have the safety and transparency they need to make informed choices until these are adopted, or mandated. Frankly I’d rather see them adopted without mandates/regulations coming into play:

Consumer Internet Safety and Privacy Rights – A Standard for Respectful Companies

ALL Internet users have the expectation of a safe Internet experience, and respectful companies strive to provide quality safety and privacy options that are easily discovered and used by consumers.  Your safety and privacy, as well as the safety and privacy of your family on the Internet should be core elements of online product and service design.

In a nutshell, online consumers should demand these rights:

  1. Establishing safety and privacy settings should be an element in the registration, or activation of a specific feature’s, process.  This includes informing you in easily understood language about the potential consequences of your choices. This allows, and requires, you to make your own choices, rather than being pushed into hidden, default settings.
  2. During the registration or activation process, articles of the terms and conditions, and privacy policy, that might affect your privacy or safety, or that of a minor in your care, should be presented to you in easy to understand language, not in a long, complicated legal document in small font.
  3. You should expect complete, easily understood information and age appropriate recommendations about every safety and privacy feature in a product or service.
  4. You should expect to easily report abuse of the products or abuse through the products of you or someone in your care.
  5. You should expect a notice or alert if a significant safety or privacy risk is discovered in an online product or service you or someone in your care is using.
  6. The provider needs to publish on a regular basis statistics demonstrating how well the company enforces its policies.  Such statistics should include; the number and types of abuse reports, number of investigations conducted, and number and type of corrective actions taken by the provider.
  7. When services or products are upgraded, you have the right to be informed of new features or changes to existing features and their impact on your – or your child’s – safety or privacy in advance of the rollout.
  8. When the terms of use or privacy policy of any provider are about to change, you have the right to be informed in advance of the changes and their impact on your – or your child’s – safety and privacy.
  9. When a provider informs you of changes to their features, privacy policy, or terms and conditions, they should provide you with a clearly discoverable, way to either opt out, or block the change, or to terminate your account.
  10. When terminating an account, your provider should enable you to remove permanently and completely all of your personal information, posts, photos, and any other personal content you may have provided or uploaded, or that has been collected by the provider about you.


More Men Charged with Attempting to Lure Underage Girls Online

November 3, 2010

While the media’s focus on internet safety has shifted almost exclusively to cyberbullying and sexting, other forms of predation continue to pose a threat. Once over-hyped as lurking behind every online contact, then dismissed as statistically insignificant, child sexual predators constitute a very real concern, and they are constantly trolling for new victims.

To thwart their exploitation of minors, Child Predator Units continue to pose as underage minors online, and undercover agents posing as young teen girls or boys continue to reel in these predators with virtually every fly they cast.

In a recent sting in Pennsylvania, two men have been charged with using the internet in an attempt to lure underage girls into sexual encounters.

According to Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office, Jacob Andrew Lucas, 25, and Richard Dean Carbo, 47, allegedly propositioned attorney general’s office agents who were pretending to be 13-year-old girls, through Internet chat rooms.

Charges were filed against Lucas after he sent a naked picture of himself during his first online chat with an agent pretending to be an underage teen girl and pressured the ‘girl’ to meet with him in person. Lucas then repeatedly engaged in online chats with the undercover agent, going into detail about the sexual acts he wished to perform with the ‘girl’, even going so far as to ask when her parents worked so he could arrange to meet with her at her house when no adults would be around.

Lucas was arrested by officers from the Child Predator Unit and police after he arrived at a predetermined location to meet up with the undercover agent posing as the teenager. He has been charged with one count of unlawful contact with a minor, one count of unlawful contact with a minor, two counts of unlawful contact with a minor and one count of criminal use of a computer.

The second arrestee, Richard Carbo, is also charged with attempting to engage in sexual activity with a minor after soliciting an undercover agent who posed as a teenage girl in an Internet chat room. He told the agent that he wanted to meet with her in order to “teach” her about sex, according to the attorney general’s office.

Carbo sent webcam videos to the undercover agent posing as a teen girl, in which he was naked and performing a sex act. He also sent pornographic images, and discussed bestiality with the ‘girl’. Carbo was arrested by police and agents from the Child Predator Unit and charged with 14 counts of unlawful contact with a minor; along with one count of criminal use of a computer.

Why this matters to you

More kids get harmed by schoolyard bullies than get hit by cars – but we still go to great lengths to teach youth how to look both ways and follow traffic safety rules. This same pragmatism must be applied to online safety issues as well, we cannot fail to address in a careful and thoughtful way the full scope of potential online issues youth may face.

Some internet safety “experts” have all but dismissed the threat of sexual predators online as a rarity that essentially only involves troubled youth, and have advised that efforts should instead focus on areas that impact a larger number of victims. This is shockingly poor guidance.  This is not an either/or scenario.

While successful sexual exploitation of a minor met through the internet is far less common than many other forms of abuse, it is not a rare outcome. The potentially horrific and life-long consequences of sexual exploitation demand that focus, education and prevention efforts remain a priority for families, schools, and others who teach youth about online safety.

Another common, though unfortunate, observation is that most of the youth who were solicited online were already experiencing trouble in other aspects of their lives. While this is true, it doesn’t present the larger more accurate picture.

Some youth who have fallen victim to online sexual predators were shockingly ‘normal’ with great grades, strong friendships, and popular. Others have been in trouble at home, at school or with the law multiple times. Some are lonely, vulnerable, questioning their own sexuality, unsupervised, or have already been victims of sexual exploitation.

All youth are more vulnerable at some points than they are at others, and predators, including child sexual predators, are constantly probing online and offline for youth who are in one of those vulnerable moments.

It is essential for parents, teachers and caregivers to candidly discuss with kids and teens how to appropriately engage with others, how to reject inappropriate contact, and how to seek help when needed whether the contact is online or offline.

As you discuss online safety with kids and teens, talk about the full breadth of potential threats, teach what youth can do to stay safer and avoid harm, and assure your children that you will give them your total support if problems arise.

This does not mean scaring children, nor does it mean banning youth from using the internet. In fact, banning youth from social networking or other online activities is likely to backfire and lead to deception. It also places youth at an extremely high level of vulnerability as youth who have been told they can’t use these online tools, can’t turn to you if things go wrong.

Actively engage with your child online, understand who they are interacting with, teach social responsibility, family safety and privacy, and be in tune to changes in their behavior that could indicated issues.

We need the ongoing discussions about cyberbullying and self-exploitation through sexting, but we cannot set aside teaching youth about online sexual exploitation, and other potential areas of risk.


Older Adults Double Their Use of Social Networks

September 10, 2010

Nearly half (47%) of US adults 50-64 now use a social networking (socnet) site, as do 26% of those 65 and older.

Not only are older adults using socnets, their use of these services has doubled in the last year according to data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Older Adults Increasingly Share Daily Updates

Pew’s research also found that 20% adults ages 50-64 say they use socnets on a typical day, up from 10% one year ago.

Similarly, 13% of online adults ages 65 and older log on to social networking sites daily, compared with just 4% who did so in 2009.

Furthermore, the use of Twitter and other services used to share status updates has grown among older users, particularly those ages 50-64 whose use jumped from 5% in 2009, to 11% this year.  Among online adults ages 50-64, 6% of make Twitter a part of their daily routine, up from 1% in 2009.

What does this mean to you?

If you are an older adult, be proactive in learning how to use online services and tools safely. We don’t learn safety for safety’s sake; we learn safety to accomplish what we want without placing ourselves or others in harm’s way.

Before you know it, online safety skills become so in-grained that you won’t have to even think about them, they’ll just automatically be instilled in what you do.

If you help your parents or grandparents, talk to them about safely using social networks. Many adults share far more information than teens, exposing themselves, their finances, their family, and grandchildren to undue levels of risk.

If you’re a teen, it means you’re less happy with your socnet – 14% of teens said they have left Facebook because there are just “too many adults and older people” on the site.

If you are part of an internet safety organization, this data should be a wake-up call. Very few internet safety education resources are designed to meet the needs of older adults. Yet this rapidly growing demographic is engaging in the full spectrum of online services and need clear safety advice.

(Full disclosure: I am a strong advocate for senior internet safety education, and have written Using the Internet Safely for Seniors For Dummies for Wiley, written a mini-book for seniors and presentations specifically for seniors.