Linda Criddle gives both SocialShield and SafetyWeb a test run

April 4, 2011

In an interview for KOMO TV in Seattle, Linda Criddle gave both SocialShield and SafetyWeb a test run. Here’s the article, and a link to the video coverage.

Services monitor kids’ social media accounts for key words

By Connie Thompson, Mar 1, 2011

As many teens will tell you, there are all kinds of ways to keep parents from knowing their social network secrets. A couple of new monitoring services say their eyes can go where yours can’t.

SocialShield and SafetyWeb comb through dozens social networking sites in search of information and photos posted by and about your kid.

They provide parents with daily alerts of key words and phrases and other activity that could signal a problem: depression, profanity, adult interaction, bullying, threats, drugs, alcohol, predators, racism and hate. You have to provide your child’s name and e-mail information for their social network accounts.

Both websites offer a free sample report. So Internet safety expert Linda Criddle gave them a trial run using her own e-mail address. While they identified some of Criddle’s social network accounts, neither site came up with everything.

“Now that doesn’t mean that they can’t do a better job when they are getting more information from a parent to help hone in on who their child is, what their phone number is, all of that information,” said Criddle.

Without conducting a back-end analysis of the sites, Criddle says both sites are a good start at helping parents find potential red flags.

“And what’s exciting with both SocialShield and SafetyWeb, is that they’re sort of the next generation of family safety or parental control tools that are more than just block and filter,” Criddle said.

Criddle stresses that monitoring kids online best done with transparency where the child is aware the monitoring is taken place, and gets ongoing parental guidance about online safety. SocialShield agrees.

“Kids don’t always make the best decisions,” said SocialShield’s Kenny Ossen. “We’re trying to protect kids, make them safer and still let them do what they want to do.”

Ossen says his company’s service is another tool to help parents teach their kids to use social networking wisely and be smart about what they say and do. Since SocialShield was launched last summer, Ossen says the service has help a number of families identify bullying that parents were not aware of, and is credited with helping a couple get help for their son, who they had no idea was suicidal.

But don’t expect monitoring sites to tell you everything your kids are doing online. The services focus primarily on active social network sites- and in some cases texting and cell phone activity — places where most teens tend to gravitate.

Both SocialShield and SafetyWeb charge monthly fees of about $10.


Services monitor kids’ social media accounts for key words

March 6, 2011

In an interview for KOMO TV in Seattle, Linda Criddle gave both SocialShield and SafetyWeb a test run. Here’s the article, and a link to the video coverage.

Services monitor kids’ social media accounts for key words

By Connie Thompson, Mar 1, 2011

As many teens will tell you, there are all kinds of ways to keep parents from knowing their social network secrets. A couple of new monitoring services say their eyes can go where yours can’t.

SocialShield and SafetyWeb comb through dozens social networking sites in search of information and photos posted by and about your kid.

They provide parents with daily alerts of key words and phrases and other activity that could signal a problem: depression, profanity, adult interaction, bullying, threats, drugs, alcohol, predators, racism and hate. You have to provide your child’s name and e-mail information for their social network accounts.

Both websites offer a free sample report. So Internet safety expert Linda Criddle gave them a trial run using her own e-mail address. While they identified some of Criddle’s social network accounts, neither site came up with everything.

“Now that doesn’t mean that they can’t do a better job when they are getting more information from a parent to help hone in on who their child is, what their phone number is, all of that information,” said Criddle.

Without conducting a back-end analysis of the sites, Criddle says both sites are a good start at helping parents find potential red flags.

“And what’s exciting with both SocialShield and SafetyWeb, is that they’re sort of the next generation of family safety or parental control tools that are more than just block and filter,” Criddle said.

Criddle stresses that monitoring kids online best done with transparency where the child is aware the monitoring is taken place, and gets ongoing parental guidance about online safety. SocialShield agrees.

“Kids don’t always make the best decisions,” said SocialShield’s Kenny Ossen. “We’re trying to protect kids, make them safer and still let them do what they want to do.”

Ossen says his company’s service is another tool to help parents teach their kids to use social networking wisely and be smart about what they say and do. Since SocialShield was launched last summer, Ossen says the service has help a number of families identify bullying that parents were not aware of, and is credited with helping a couple get help for their son, who they had no idea was suicidal.

But don’t expect monitoring sites to tell you everything your kids are doing online. The services focus primarily on active social network sites- and in some cases texting and cell phone activity — places where most teens tend to gravitate.

Both SocialShield and SafetyWeb charge monthly fees of about $10.


The One-Way-Mirror Society – Privacy Implications of Surveillance Monitoring Networks

October 11, 2010

Do you know how often your actions are being monitored? Security and surveillance cameras are increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives; they are used in most stores and many of the offices we visit, they monitor the exteriors buildings, watch gates, and storage areas, they are mounted on street lights and alongside roads to capture traffic violations, and more. But these devices have become far more sophisticated than you may realize.

In technical parlance these monitoring tools are included under the umbrella term digital signage networks, which essentially means they belong to a network of customizable digital capturing devices and digital display devices can be controlled using a computer. Some are simple devices that simply count the number of people or cars that pass, some are advanced facial recognition cameras that capture identities, gender, age, behaviors and other detailed information about consumers.

Your privacy depends on who can access to the content collected through these forms of monitoring, and what they can do with that information.

A report(PDF) by the World Privacy Forum delves into the inherent privacy risks associated with these devices, and what these risks may mean to you. It’s a sobering read on a topic few spend much time pondering.

Here are excerpts from that report:

…While most consumers understand a need for security cameras, few expect that the video screen they are watching, the kiosk they are typing on, or the game billboard they are interacting with is watching them while gathering copious images and behavioral and demographic information. This is creating a one-way-mirror society with no notice or opportunity for consumers to consent to being monitored in retail, public, and other spaces or to consent to having their behavior analyzed for marketing and profit.

The privacy problems inherent in these networks are profound, and to date these issues have not been adequately addressed by anyone. Digital signage networks, if left unaddressed, will very likely comprise a new form of sophisticated marketing surveillance leading to abuses of the collected information….

….One of the primary selling points for those wanting to deploy digital signage is that the screens are not just a one-way technology going from screen to consumer. The most advanced digital signage installations have screens concealing a host of technologies that gather information from the rooms they are placed in and the people who come within view of the screens, and then respond accordingly, often instantly. Digital signs can record the customers near them, monitor room temperature, check carbon dioxide levels, and more. For example, it is now an unremarkable feature for a digital signage installation to show ads targeted to the specific gender or age of a person looking at the screen as the person is standing in front of it…. The technology has reportedly reached about a 90 percent accuracy rate….

Summary of Recommendations

Principal preliminary recommendations discussed in the report include:

  • Better notice and disclosure to consumers
  • No one-sided industry self regulation
  • No price or other unfair discrimination
  • The full set of Fair Information Practices must apply for compiled information
  • Notice given to consumers about subpoenas for their information
  • Prohibitions on digital signage in bathrooms, health facilities, etc.
  • More robust consumer choices regarding data capture and use from signage
  • Special rules for collection and use of pictures and information about children

There is nothing inherently wrong in marketers wanting to customize ads to best appeal to a specific consumer, but it is fraught with pitfalls and to mitigate these risks there must be greater transparency for consumers about what tracking is occurring, as well as and clear consumer choices for how their information is used. And, there should be a watchdog organization ensuring consumers rights are protected.

Read the full report(PDF).

Linda


Child Cell Phone Safety

July 13, 2010

Here is the promised cell phone safety tools follow up to my New Trends in Child Safety Monitoring Tools for PC’s.

With 21% 8-10 year-olds, and close to 70% of 11-14 year-olds having their own cell phone, providing families the ability to help protect their children in the mobile environment is critical.

Family safety tools, often called parental controls or child protection tools, for internet accessible mobile devices were slow to arrive, but today several a flurry of products aims to fill the void by merging state of the art technology with the customization families need.

Though still not perfect, mobile safety products are worth considering if you have kids, tweens, or younger teens using cell phones, and the safeguards you can put in place through the phone and service provider are not enough.

However, monitoring tools can only do so much toward protecting your children, teaching youth how to be responsible online, how to protect themselves, and what to do if there’s trouble is a job that can’t be delegated to software.

Mobile safety choices:

  1. Select a phone that is appropriate for your child. There are very simple phones for the youngest users that can essentially do only one thing – place calls – and those calls can be restricted to certain numbers. On the other end of the spectrum are the ‘smart phones’ that are likely to include photo and video filming and viewing, GPS (location tracking) functionality, the ability to chat and use social networks, conduct financial transactions, have removable memory, and more.  Think through the safety and privacy implications and responsibilities that come with each feature and select a phone that you and your child/tween/teen can both be comfortable with.
  2. Choose the carrier that best fits your needs. Consistent coverage is always the first concern for phone purchasers, but for youth you want to also consider what safety features the carrier offers. Verizon has the most comprehensive family safety/parental control options (see also Verizon Safeguards)among mobile service providers, but all the major carriers have at least some safety features. (see comparison chart below)
  3. Pick the phone plan that provides only the functionality you want for your child. You can choose to purchase a plan that allows text messaging, photo sharing, and internet access – or not. Add these as you feel your child is ready to take on the greater responsibility for appropriately using these features. Talk to your carrier’s sales personnel to learn more about the safety functionality they provide, and, if you feel anxious about your ability to set the controls on your child’s phone yourself, ask the sales person to set these up for you.
    1. Another consideration when choosing your child’s phone plan is whether you want your child to have a prepaid plan, a monthly independent plan, or include your child on your family plan. Selecting a plan that allows you to review the bill each month gives you a strong method for monitoring their use and safety. The phone bill should show you what times of day calls/texts are made or received, how much time is spent on the phone, who your child is interacting with, what websites they’re visiting, etc. This helps you to see where there may be concerns like texts/calls during school hours or late at night or calls to numbers you don’t know.
  4. Have the ‘Talk’. Before your child gets their first phone, talk about each type of functionality they’ll be able to use, and what is – and isn’t – appropriate behavior, what types of information are ok to share and what isn’t, what times of day and with whom it is suitable to communicate, and how to treat others with respect. Talk about how to report trouble and assure your child you’ll help if they need you, learn together how to block callers, and use other safety features Based on your child’s age, talking about talking/texting and driving, cyberbullying via cell phones, and sexting may be appropriate.Discussing in advance your family’s safety rules, and being up front about the technologies you will employ to monitor behavior is crucial. Though many programs allow you to spy on your kids using a stealth mode, doing so will break down the trust between you and is likely to cause serious harm to your relationships.Include in your discussion clear ground rules for using the phone and the consequences of failing to use the phone appropriately. Cell phones aren’t a ‘right’ they’re a privilege and failure to appropriately handle a privilege can result in the retraction of that privilege.

    That said, I am not a proponent of taking away a child’s cell phone as a punishment for things unrelated to cell phone use. For example, if you wouldn’t take away pens and pencils from your child if they wrote mean notes, then taking away the cell phone of someone who writes mean texts doesn’t really make sense. The punishment for bullying should be about the behavior, not the tool. However, if your child is making or accepting phone calls in the middle of the night, taking the phone away at bedtime and giving it back in the morning makes sense.

    Be clear about your level of direct monitoring. If you feel that periodically sitting down with your child and reviewing their contacts, texts, photos, etc is appropriate – and it is based on age and the child’s maturity – this expectation should be well understood by your kids up front so you avoid unhappy confrontations in the future.

  5. Continue having the ‘Talk’. Once your child has a cell phone, sit down periodically to discuss how well they’re managing the freedom and responsibility the phone affords them. When they demonstrate that they can use the existing phone features appropriately, allow them to add additional features and functionality and step up their level of self management.
  6. Decide if your child needs additional safety or monitoring tools. These tools break down into three primary categories: tools that filter content and contact, tools that monitor and block usage, and tools to track the child’s location. Which tools will be appropriate for your situation is something only you can determine, but you have a number of options. GetParentalControls.org provides an excellent overview of available cell phone safety services in their Mobile phones Parental Controls Product Comparison 2010 (see comparison chart below). Like all comparisons, this chart (see below) represents a snapshot in time. Since its release, additional tools have come available. Most noteworthy of these is McAfee‘s Online Family Protection for Apple iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. To find the latest

Your goal is to help protect your kids while helping them to become fully capable, independent, responsible online citizens on any device. As kids mature, the settings you use to monitor them need to be reevaluated. Ideally you do this 2-3 times a year, but at least do so once a year. You need to transition responsibility for their behavior, and for the content, programs and sites they use as they demonstrate they have mastered the skills needed, and accepted the corresponding responsibilities that new services and activities require.

Linda


New Trends in Child Safety Monitoring Tools for PC’s

May 19, 2010

Family safety tools, often called parental controls or child protection tools, are finally making a great leap forward. And it’s about time. Safety functionality was been stuck in a twenty-year stagnation with rudimentary block and filter functions that were so heavy handed they were nearly impossible to fine tune, and resulted in frustrated parents and kids alike.

Now a flurry of products aims to fill the void by merging state of the art technology with the customization families need. Though still not perfect, the new breed of products are worth considering if you’ve given up on family safety tools in the past.

Here are a couple to consider:

  • Crisp thinking’s free imsafer product uses artificial intelligence to monitor conversations and identify the difference between typical kid conversations and interactions that become bullying or sexually exploitive. When the service notices a problem, you get an email alerting you to the situation.
  • Newly launched Safetyweb.com is an online subscription service ($10/mo or $100/yr)  that scours the web and reports to parents what their kids are doing online and with whom. To learn more about Safetyweb.com read the article SafetyWeb.com selling subscription service to monitor children’s online activity that recently ran in the LA Times, and where I comment further on the product.

For younger kids, the traditional family safety products may still fill your needs. A great way to identify which product may be best for you is to use GetNetWise’s tool analyzer to find the right safety fit for your family, or to use a the tools provided with your security software, or operating system.

3 things to keep in mind when using any monitoring services:

  1. Monitoring tools can only do so much toward protecting your children, teaching youth how to be responsible online, how to protect themselves, and what to do if there’s trouble is a job that can’t be delegated to software.
  2. Discussing in advance your family’s safety rules, and being up front about the technologies you will employ to monitor behavior is crucial. Though many programs allow you to spy on your kids using a stealth mode, doing so will break down the trust between you and is likely to cause serious harm to your relationships.
  3. Your goal is to help protect your kids while helping them to become fully capable, independent, responsible online citizens. As kids mature, the settings you use to monitor them need to be reevaluated. Ideally you do this 2-3 times a year, but at least do so once a year. You need to transition responsibility for their behavior, and for the content, programs and sites they use as they demonstrate they have mastered the skills needed, and accepted the corresponding responsibilities that new services and activities require.

I’ll write another blog about the new safety monitoring tools for cell phones shortly.

Linda