Facebook’s Semi-Automatic Mobile Photo Sync:What You Need To Know

Facebook announced on Monday that it is allowing users of its iOS and Android mobile app to automatically sync photos to their Facebook account so that they’ll be available to share as soon as you log on via a computer.

But don’t worry about accidentally posting embarrassing photos. When you enable sync, photos wind up in a holding area and are invisible to all but yourself until you decide to share them.

Follow the directions below to enable sync on your phone and to share your pictures once you log on via the web.

To enable sync:

1. If you haven’t already done so, download the latest Facebook app to your phone. Launch the app and press the menu icon in the upper left of the screen (it’s a blue icon with 3 lines).
2. Scroll down till you see photos and click on the word Photo
3. Then click on Sync in the lower right corner.

To share pictures

After you’ve enabled sync, pictures you take will automatically be syncronized to a holding area in your Facebook account.  To access it, click on Add Photos/Video near the top of your Home page and notice that there is now the option to Add Synced Photos:

Click on Add Synced Photos and you’ll see the pictures that you’ve synced.  Select the pictures you want to share and click Add Photos. You will then be able to add text and share them to whatever audience you select. As with all Facebook posts you can select who gets to see it ranging from the pubic (everyone) to “only me” (just you). The widest audience available to minors under 18 is Friends of Friends.

Privacy concerns

There are already plenty of blog posts about the privacy implications of this new feature.  An unsigned post at  RT.com, for example, worries that Facebook could “still steal the image’s geolocation data and use it to keep track of where its users are and whom they’re posing with.”  Ewan Spence here on Forbes finds “ it hard to trust Facebook’s constantly evolving privacy settings to keep these images truly private.”

I’m not so worried. If you don’t want to share photos, then don’t use the Facebook app to take pictures. Why else would you take a picture within Facebook if you didn’t want to share it?  And let’s give Facebook a bit of credit for not making the process completely automatic. You have to confirm that you really want to share the photo and even then, you get to decide on the audience.  And I’m not losing sleep over whether Facebook is “stealing” our geolocation data or planning on using our photos for some nefarious purpose.  Facebook’s motivation in wanting people to share photos is pretty obvious to me. It’ s because people want to share photos. People do it everyday and it’s one of the main reasons people use the site.  And the more time people spend on Facebook, the more money the company stands to make from advertisers.

Disclosure: I’m co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook.

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Tips for Secure Online Holiday Shopping

by Larry Magid
This post fist appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

By all accounts, the online holiday sales season got off to a good start. Tracking companies reported big increases for this year’s Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday, including a 70 percent increase in shopping from mobile devices.

Of course, Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday are just the opening rounds of holiday online shopping. I got several pitches last week for “cyber week” sales. I’m fully expecting to see ads for “cyber month,” because the holiday shopping season doesn’t actually end on December 25th. Many online and offline stores offer after-Christmas sales. Clearly we have a lot of online shopping ahead of us.

One of the biggest obstacles to online shopping is the fear of fraud or a security scam. Although longtime Internet users may already know how to protect themselves, we’re seeing a lot of new people shopping online this year as Internet use become ubiquitous. And most of us are new to shopping from mobile devices. They too have security risks.

While security is an issue, it’s important not to overblow the fear. If you shop in physical stores you run the risk of getting into an accident on the way, having your car dinged in the parking lot or having your pocket or purse picked. There is even a risk of in-store credit card fraud, where a clerk copies down all your information. These risks are low, but so are the risks of online shopping. Most of us don’t encounter fraud, identity theft or merchandise that never shows up.

The most important thing you can do is to be sure you’re dealing with a reputable site. Even if it looks like a merchant you know, take a careful look at the site’s web address (URL). If it’s Sears, for example, make sure it’s really Sears.com and not something like Sears.somethingelse.com.

That’s especially important if you’re clicking on a link that comes by email. Phishing attacks that take you to fake look-alike sites are getting increasingly sophisticated. I try to avoid clicking on links in email and just type in the site’s URL. Also be careful about misspellings. It’s not uncommon for scammers to register a site with a slight variation of a legitimate site’s name.

Even if the site isn’t a fraud, it may still be somewhat unreputable. I once bought a camera online at a price that was “too good to be true.” The camera did arrive but without a battery, battery charger or manual. By the time I bought the required accessories, I wound up spending more than if I had bought it at Amazon.com.

If you’re not familiar with a site, look at it carefully. Read the “about us” section to look for a street address and phone number. Give them a call if you feel a need for a bit of human contact with them and by all means look them up on a search engine. Sometimes I’ll type in the merchant’s name in Google followed by “scam” to see what comes up. I don’t necessarily take all reports literally — even reputable merchants will get some complaints — but I look to see how many there are and where they are coming from.

You should always use a payment method that gives you some recourse. Credit cards are best because, if you have a complaint, you can ask the credit card company to investigate and it will remove the charge until it determines if it’s fraudulent. You also have protections with debit cards, but since they take the money out of your account immediately, you have to ask that it be put back. PayPal also offers some protections against fraud.

You might want to avoid shopping or banking from public Wi-Fi networks, especially ones that aren’t secured with a password. Even if it is password protected, there is the chance that someone could “sniff” what you’re doing on the public network.

Finally, make sure your device is secure. And notice that I said “device,” not PC. Many of us are using security or “anti-virus” software on our PCs and heeding advice to keep our operating systems and software up-to-date. But most people don’t pay much attention to smartphone security.

As smartphone shopping and banking increases, cyber criminals are turning their attention to mobile. Be very careful about the apps you download — some have been known to contain malware that can steal your information. Only download from trusted sources like the Apple App store or Google Play and read the reviews in those stores if you’re not familiar with the app. The major security software companies like Norton, Trend Micro and McAfee offer mobile software, as does Lookout.com, which has both a free and premium app to protect iPhone and Android phones.

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It’s Time to Stop Letting Fear Interfere with Youth Online Freedom

By Larry Magid

“Authority, given its common style, becomes increasingly incapable of commanding respect from the young for any reason save the fear on which is it ultimately based.”
Michael Rossman
“On Learning and Social Change,” 1972

I’ve been an “Internet safety advocate” since I wrote the first widely circulated booklet on the subject back in 1994, but I’ve come around to thinking it’s time for Internet safety to make way for freedom and youth empowerment.

When I started writing on about Internet safety, I was genuinely worried about pornography, predators and other dangers associated with technology, but over time, my focus has shifted. I’m now far more worried about the subjugation of youth, especially now that there is plenty of research to show that the vast majority of young people are smart in their use of the Internet and mobile technology.

ConnectSafely.org, an organization I co-run with Anne Collier, continues to offer Internet safety advice but is increasingly working in the area of youth empowerment. That’s why we subtitled our, Online Safety 3.0 booklet,  Empowering and Protecting Youth. In her blog posts at NetFamilyNews.org, Anne has consistently argued that Internet safety can only be protective if it respects young people and promotes youth agency.

In a sense I’ve come full circle back to my student activism days of the 60’s and 70’s when I was writing and traveling around the country advocating for free universities and an end to authoritarian education. Back then no-one in my circles was advocating keeping young people away from any form of content and – in the wake of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement – the last thing any of us wanted was to muzzle young people’s free expression.

Yet today there are those — in the name of “Internet safety”– who do just that. There are several companies promoting Internet filters — even for teens. And even young people whose home computers and mobile devices remain unfiltered, typically have such restrictions placed on devices at their schools.  And we’re not just talking about porn filters. A very high percentage of American schools – including middle schools and high schools – block access to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. There are also productsdesigned to monitor what teens are doing online including some that capture every keystroke and mouse click as well as all incoming and outgoing text messages and cell phone records.

Schools and free expression

Schools are blocking the very media that young people are using to express themselves and communicate with others. It’s also one of the ways people learn and is the virtual gathering place for today’s social activists. Schools that block social media today are no different than schools that blocked political speech during the sixties. Today’s educators may think they’re protecting students and keeping them on track just as some adults in the sixties argued that political speech — including protesting the Vietnam war and advocating for civil rights — was an unnecessary distraction for students of that generation.

The fact is that the open Internet has been used by young people since the early nineties and those early digital natives — now in their mid to late 20′s — seem to be doing OK, despite the ready availability of online porn, drug sites, hate sites and sites advocating all sorts of social evils. My own kids — now 26 and 28 — had unfettered access to the Internet during their teens and both — along with nearly all their peers– are well adjusted normal young adults.

Edge cases

I realize that filters can be helpful for young children who might accidentally stumble onto disturbing sites and there will always some teens who need an extraordinary measures to protect them. There will be a small percentage of kids who bully and there will be some who lack the resilience to deal with the bullies they may encounter. But just as bullies at school don’t justify denying all children freedom of assembly, cyberbullying (which is less prevalent) doesn’t justify restricting online access.

Just as there are high-risk adults, there are some kids whose risk taking or aggressive behavior calls for extraordinary supervision or monitoring, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. Adolescent is a time to test limits, hopefully in a safe and supportive home environment.  The majority of youth are capable of making good decisions but adults — especially parents – still have an important role to play.  We can have a big impact by listening to, speaking with and supporting the young people in our lives and have an even more lasting impact by serving as good role models.


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Researchers dispel myths about cyberbullying

by Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

Michele Ybarra

A lot has been written about cyberbullying and I’ve seen some articles claiming that cyberbullying is more prevalent and more severe than in-person bullying. Some even refer to it as an “epidemic.”

But, in a presentation at the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) conference in Washington last week, a leading researcher on youth risk reported that the popular belief is actually a misconception. Compared to that bullying that takes place at school and other in-person venues, online bullying is both less prevalent and less distressing.

Listen to Larry’s CBS News Tech Talk segment with Michele Ybarra

Michele Ybarra, president of the Center for Innovative Public Health, says 17 percent of youth have reported online bullying compared to 39 percent who have experienced it “in person.” Ten percent have been bullied by phone, according to Ybarra, while 14 percent have experienced bullying via text messaging.

And despite the concerns that cyberbullying can follow kids home and haunt them via their phones and on their computers, Ybarra’s research found that kids who were bullied in school were more than twice as likely (38 percent vs. 15 percent) to report that they were very or extremely upset about the incident.

Ybarra’s presentation illustrated just how prevalent technology is among teens. For 12-17 year-olds, 95 percent are online, 77 percent have a cell phone, 23 percent have a smartphone, 63 percent text daily and 76 percent use social media. Only 6 percent of teens use email on a daily basis.

She also dispelled the myth that cyberbullying is getting worse. Between 2008 and 2010, bullying rates among 13 to 17 years were mostly flat, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Bullying rate discrepancies between studies can sometimes be explained by how they define bullying. The Olweaus’ Bullying Prevention Program defines bullying as “aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power. Most often, it is repeated over time,” but some researchers define it differently

In a 2011 paper entitled “The Internet, Youth Safety and the Problem of ‘Juvenoia,’” David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, observed that during the years when young people’s use of the Internet has mushroomed, young people have actually experienced fewer serious traumas, not more, as is commonly assumed.

“In the U.S. there has been a remarkable improvement in social problem and risk indicators for young people,” he wrote.

Sexual abuse of children decreased by 61 percent between 1992 and 2009, he said, while teenage pregnancies went down by 43 percent and 21 fewer teens had multiple sex partners. Meanwhile, the number of teens committing suicide dropped 38 percent from 1990 to 2007, he said.

There are cases of children who have taken their lives after being cyberbullied but they are rare, and frequently there are other factors involved, making it difficult to blame the suicide on a single event.

Finkelhor isn’t asserting that the Internet is making kids safer, but the data clearly show that kids aren’t at greater risk since they started going online.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also show that bullying — while still a significant problem — has not become more prevalent over the past few years. Bullying among high school students (Grades 9-12) remained flat (20%) between 2009 and 2011 with a slight decrease among boys and a slight increase for girls. The report found that in 2009, girls were twice as likely (22% vs 11%) to be “electronically bullied” than boys.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). 1991-2011 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey data.

Challenges remain. While most kids aren’t bullied, a significant minority are and the numbers are higher for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) youth and those who are “perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what kids consider ‘cool,’” according to the government website StopBullying.gov.

It’s also important to realize that the consequences of bullying can range from mildly annoying to extremely serious. Adults need to pay attention to all cases, but the response should be measured and proportional. Research has shown that many kids are able to handle some bullying incidents on their own or with the help of their peers. But there are some cases where adult — and sometimes even law enforcement — intervention is necessary. It’s important to get all the facts and to avoid overreacting.

Just as with public health, when it comes to online risk, one size doesn’t fit all. We need to continue to provide positive rather than fear-based Internet safety education to all children. And we need to give extra attention to the smaller number of kids who are at risk and helpful intervention for the those few who are in trouble.

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For kids and parents, there’s a digital generation gap, but maybe that’s OK

Responses to question “How well informed do you think [your parents/you] are about what [you do/your child does] online and on a cell phone?”

Years ago there was a public service announcement that aired just before the late night news: “It’s 11:00, Do you know where your children are?”  That ad was designed to alert parents that perhaps they need to pay more attention to what their kids were doing in the physical world.  Today, the ad could read “Your kids are online 24/7, do you know what they’re doing?”  Most parents think they do, but when you ask the kids, they think their parents are a lot less clued in.

A newly released study (The Online Generation Gap: Contrasting attitudes and behaviors of parents and teens) conducted by Hart Research Associates for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) found a “generation gap” between what parents think they know about their kids online behavior and what the kids think their parents know.

Ninety-one percent of parents say they are “well informed about what their kids are doing online and on their cell phones,” but when you ask teens, only 62% say their parents are well informed (21%) or somewhat well informed (41%).

When it comes to Twitter, the study found 38% of parents say they are “well informed” about their teen’s use of the service, compared to 14% of teens who think their parents are fully clued in. That a 24% gap.  There’s an 18 point gap for Facebook and a 14% gap for Pinterest when it comes to how well informed parents think they are compared to what their kids think.


The study found that 84% of parents  report that they monitor their teens’ usage very (31%) or fairly (53%) closely, compared to 39% of teens who say their parents monitor them very (11%) or somewhat (28%) closely, which represents a 45-percentage-point gap between parent and teen perceptions.  There are some interesting differences based on age and whether kids live in a one or two parent household. Younger teens (13-15) are considerably more likely (45%) to say they’re very or somewhat closely monitored compared to 27% of 16-17 year-olds. Teens who live in households with two parents are more likely (41%) to say they’re monitored than those who live in single-parent households (31%).

Source: FOSI/Hart Research “Generation Gap” study

Adults matter

Parents may think their kids aren’t listening, but several studies — including this FOSI report — show that they do. “When teens seek out information about how to stay safe online, nearly three in four (74%) turn to their parents.” Two thirds (66%) of kids say they get their safety information from school or teachers.

Does the gap matter?

Some will undoubtedly fret over the perception gap between teens and parents but based on other data from this survey, I’m not all that concerned. Although I don’t know of any old studies to prove this, I suspect that there has always been a gap between what parents think they know about their kids and what kids think their parents know. It certainly was the case in my family when I was a teen.  My parents had some idea of what I did during the day, but there were many gaps in their knowledge as I went about my teenage life out of their site whether it was via bicycle during my younger teen years or when I slipped away in the car once I turned 16. What’s important isn’t that parents micromanage their kids or track their behavior but whether they have an open relationship that allows for general communications about important life events and values. Teens need to know that they can come to their parents if they have a problem and want to talk and parents need to know that their teens have internalized important family values when it comes to how they approach decisions that affect their safety and privacy.

Kids feel safe

One of my reasons for optimism is the finding that “95% of teens say they feel very (37%) or somewhat (58%) safe online,” and that parents agree. Ninety four percent of parents say they feel their teen is very (36%) or somewhat (58%) safe online. Just 5% of teens and 6% of parents say they feel unsafe.

What I like about this data is that it tracks reality. The fact is that most kids are reasonably safe online. While we hear about problems, studies have shown that the vast majority of kids are not being bullied or harassed by peers or victimized by predatory adults. The Internet — like life itself — will never be 100% safe, but most kids are pretty savvy when it comes to taking care of themselves online and it’s reassuring to see that parents generally agree.

The study is based on two nationwide online surveys: among 511 13- to 17-year-olds who use the Internet at least occasionally, and another among 500 parents of 13- to 17-year- olds who access the Internet. The Family Online Safety Institute is international non-profit organization online safety. Its supporters include Microsoft, Facebook, GoogleYahoo, AOL, AT&T and other technology companies.

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Survey: Parents and Peers Can Help Cut Down on Teen Texting While Driving


by Larry Magid

A survey conducted by C&R Research and ConnectSafely.org, in partnership with AT&T, found that most teens don’t text while driving and that those who do might benefit from a bit of friendly persuasion from parents and other teens.

The full report will be released in early December but — based on a preliminary analysis of the data — it appears that that most teens understand that texting while driving (TWD) is dangerous – nearly matching the awareness of the risks of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) (96% said TWD is very or somewhat unsafe compared to 97% for DUI).

The survey also found that parents also have an influence over whether a teen will TWD. Eighty-five percent of teens said that they would be likely to stop texting “if a parent in your car ask you to stop.” An additional 9% said somewhat likely for a total of 94%. Eighty-eight percent of of teens said they would stop texting if a friend about their own age asked them to stop (67% very and 22% somewhat), 44% of teen drivers said that they would be either glad or thankful if a passenger complained about their texting while driving.

Seventy-eight percent of teens say they’re likely or very likely not to TWD if friends say it’s wrong or stupid and slightly fewer (76%) will if adults say it’s dangerous).

The study also examined texting while driving attitudes of younger (non-driving) teens and the impact of parents as role models when it comes to teen texting while driving. The full results will be included in the study’s final report when it’s released in December.

ConnectSafely.org is a non-profit Internet safety and youth advocacy organization where I, along with Anne Collier serve as co-director.  The study was funded by AT&T.


Anne Collier’s blog post TWD going the way of DUI
AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign: “Take the pledge to never txt & drive”
Texting while driving: How Dangerous is it (Car and Driver)

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Many at Internet Governance Forum Agree: Censorship Not The Way to Protect Kids

by Larry Magid
This post fist appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

The United Nation’s Internet Governance Forum took place in Baku, Azerbaijan November 6-9

I’m writing from Baku, Azerbaijan, where I’m speaking at the Internet Governance Forum, a United Nations conference for representatives of governments, industry and nonprofit groups to discuss Internet policy issues. It’s not a rule making body but a forum for conversation where every delegate — including young people from several countries — exchange views on how — or whether — to “govern” the Internet.

Some would impose regulations

Most speakers, including U.S. Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary Lawrence Strickling, who addressed the opening ceremony, argue that the Internet should remain “free from governmental control … to preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder model that governs the Internet today.” Strickling was reacting to a treaty proposal from the U.N’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that could impose some unwelcome regulations if some countries get their way

Even though the Internet evolved from work funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, it’s been largely an unregulated space where companies, users, standards groups and governments have been making up the rules and establishing norms as we go along.

It was around 1994, after the release of Mosaic — the first easy to use Web browser — that the commercial Internet began to take off. Since then there have been many attempts at regulation, including the U.S. Communications Decency Act of 1996, which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress but later mostly struck down by the Supreme Court after a legal challenge led by the American Civil Liberties Union,

Russian law not the answer

Ironically, just as the Internet Governance Forum was getting underway, Russia started enforcing a controversial new law that would allow the government to ban or block websites with objectionable material. The law, according to Russian officials, is designed to protect children from child pornography and sites that promote drug use, suicide and political extremism. But several Russians I spoke with when I was in Moscow in February told me that it will likely be used by the Putin administration to suppress political speech.

I had traveled to Russia to give two speeches on how it’s possible to protect children without violating Internet freedoms. I gave the first speech at a Safer Internet Day event sponsored by a nonprofit group, but just as I was about to step up to the podium the following day at a government sponsored event, the moderator called the session to an end. They claimed, of course, that they just ran out of time. But a Russian colleague confirmed that what they really ran out of was tolerance for what I had to say.

Larry Magid & ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier enjoy a walk along the Caspian sea in Baku during break from IGF

My ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier was also in Russia in February and at the IGF in Baku where she, too, led workshops.

Standards, not regulations

Most delegates here in Baku are opposed to government regulation but agree there need to be standards, such as the website naming conventions that are coordinated by the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Other international bodies handle Internet “plumbing,” setting technical standards for the flow of information between service providers. But with the exception of issues such as child pornography, most people here agree that governmental bodies should stay clear of regulating content, even if that content may be offensive to many people.

Of course, some governments do control content. There is the “great firewall of China,” which bans Facebook and most U.S.-based blog networks. Iran may launch a national intranet that bans foreign sites. Iran, China and Russia are among the countries urging the United Nations to create a regulatory framework.

My role at IGF is to speak on panels regarding Internet safety and child protection. While I’m in support of International efforts to ban child pornography, I remain opposed to laws restricting what children can see or do online, preferring to leave that in the hands of families.

Children have free speech rights

One of my panels focused on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that, among other things, guarantees children “the right to freedom of expression,” including “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”

The convention acknowledges that the exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions. But it sets out a broad framework that not only protects children from government censorship but, arguably, from restrictions imposed by schools or even their own parents. That makes the provision somewhat controversial not only in totalitarian states but also in democracies, including the United States, where some worry that it limits parental rights. The convention was ratified by all UN members except the United States, Somalia and South Sudan.

European laws protect children’s privacy even from their own parents. U.S. parents have a great deal of legal authority over their children, but there is nothing in the First Amendment that says you have to be an adult to have free speech rights. That doesn’t mean that kids get to surf the Internet at 3 a.m. or visit porn sites, but — as I interpret it — it does mean they have the freedom to express themselves and seek out information and opinions. Freedom can be messy, but it sure beats the alternatives.

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Facebook Provides Privacy Education for New Users

Facebook now offering privacy lessons to new users

About two years ago, Anne Collier and I wrote A Parents Guide to Facebook, which we’ve revised a couple of times. But now new Facebook users will get a privacy primer from Facebook itself.

On its blog, the company announced that new users will get lessons on the following topics, when they first sign up for the service:

      • Default settings
      • Selecting an audience for information shared on Timeline
      • Access to their data
      • How they interact with applications, games, and websites
      • How ads works on the site
      • Tagging people and things
      • Finding friends on Facebook through search and contact importers

It’s an important step towards empowering users to take control over their information.  Although Facebook has often been criticized for what some consider to be “lack of privacy,” the service has long offered extensive user privacy controls, but many people simply don’t know how to use them.

Continuing education

Of course you don’t have to be new to Facebook to need lessons on privacy. There are many existing members who could use a refresher course on how to limit who can see what they post.

Perhaps the most important lesson is to understand how to control the audience for each post, which you can now do each time you post.

Facebook’s inline privacy controls lets you select the audience for each post

Each time you post anything — a comment, a status update or even a picture or video, notice the symbol to the right of the word “post.” If it’s a globe, that means you’re posting to the public and that potentially means anyone with access to the Internet.

But if you click on that symbol you’ll see other options that allow you limit who can see that post.  A word of caution — once you select an audience, that remains the default until you change it, so if you decide to widen your audience for a particular post, remember to change that option the next time you post.

Facebook lets you limit who can see your posts

 Disclosure: I’m co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook.


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Tracking Kids’ Cell Phones: Reassurance or Overparenting?

Life360 is one of several apps that let you track family members

Thanks to my ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier for her thoughtful post about cell phone tracking that concludes “most parents don’t really need software to parent.”  I of course agree. What she said about tracking apps, tracks (no pun intended) what I’ve long said about content filtering. The best filter isn’t the one on the device, but the one that runs between the  child’s ears. Still, I think a case can be made for using software to check in on your kids’ location as a way to reassure worried parents and free kids from having to call or text home to let mom and dad know they’re OK.

Anne linked to an article in Time that briefly describes some of the tracking programs available, in its attempt to answer the question of whether parents should use smartphones to track their kids. Time reports that “Some 20 million people have already downloaded Life360, a location app that allows family members to alert one another when they’ve arrived at various spots and to follow one another’s movements with by-the-minute updates.”  Another product covered in the overview is SMS Tracker that allows parents to see all incoming and outgoing texts, call logs and photos.

A product that tracks and monitors all phone calls, text messages, GPS location and web browsing is more like spying than parenting

While there may be some extreme cases where monitoring every text and phone call makes sense for parents of high-risk kids, I don’t generally recommend products that spy on kids’ texts, phone calls or web surfing.  I’m OK with programs that alert parents if their kids do something potentially dangerous, but tracking their every online move is not only overly invasive but leads to too much information. When my kids were young, we wanted to know who they were hanging out with,  but we didn’t plant a device on them to record conversations with their friends.

Location tracking

Glympse — which must be enabled by the user — can be used to track location, movement and speed but expires in no more than 4 hours

I actually think there is a justification for location tracking as long as it’s used for reassurance as opposed to spying.  It can even be used to give family members a bit more freedom as a substitute for having them always having to call in or ask permission to go from place to place. And I don’t think it should necessarily be limited to kids. They can also be reassuring when used voluntarily by adult family members as well.

Confessions of a worried parent

Smartphone tracking apps weren’t available when my kids (now 26 and 28) were young, but if they were, I think we might have used them.  I wouldn’t use a program to track my kid’s every move but if they were out late at night and I couldn’t reach them, I might use the program just to make sure they’re OK. If I saw they were at a friend’s house or perhaps a local eatery, I could relax and stop worrying.

When my son was in high school, he had a debit card that enabled me to track his spending online. One night my wife and I were out of town and he was staying with a friend. The friend’s parent called me to ask if I knew where their son and my son were and of course I didn’t. I then logged into his debit account and saw that he bought a meal at a local restaurant just a few minutes earlier, which reassured me and his friend’s parents that they weren’t lying it a ditch somewhere.

Even now, I sometimes use Glympse to reassure family members of my location.  Gympse is a free smartphone apps that allows you to share your location with anyone for up to 4 hours (as a privacy and anti-stalking measure it can’t be set to permanently track anyone).  If you’re in a car, it shows your movement and speed on a map (though this can be disabled).  One day when my son was on a long drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, he voluntarily let me track him so I didn’t have to worry if he was OK.  I’ve also used Apple’s Find My Phone app to reassure myself that family members are OK when they’re out late at night.

Conversation is the key

The key to using these apps successfully is getting everyone to agree.  If you’re a worried parent who wants to be able to know where your kids are, ask them if they’re willing to let you track their location in exchange for greater freedom.  Tell them that they don’t have to call or text-in as often or put up with you’re bugging them and consider giving them some additional freedoms in exchange for them giving you some additional peace of mind.

*Disclosure: I am co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization which receives financial support from several companies, including Glympse.




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Be Cyber Security Savvy


A report issued by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and McAfee security found that “17 percent say they have been a victim of a crime that was committed over the Internet such as identity theft, data theft, bullying or auction fraud.”

When considering the data, be aware that not all crimes were serious.  Still, the release of this study — along with the fact that a bunch of companies and non-profits have designated October as “National Cyber Security Awareness Month” is as good a time as any to remind ourselves about this important topic.

October is National “Almost Everything Month”

Not to dismiss the importance of this special month but October is also National Bullying Awareness Month along with National Book Month, National Work and Family Month, National Dental Hygiene Month, Let’s Talk Month and so many more, according to Wikipedia.

For more on the survey see “State of cybersecurity concerns” from my ConnectSafely.org co-director, Anne Collier.

So, whether it’s October or any other month, you should still pay attention to cyber security  Not only are you protecting yourself and your family  but the rest of us as well.  Vulnerable machines that are taken over by “zombies” are a threat to everyone on the net.

You’ll find plenty of good advice at StaySafeOnline.org in addition to the following suggestions from NCSA:

  • When in doubt, throw it out: Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete or if appropriate, mark as junk email.
  • Get savvy about Wi-Fi hotspots: Limit the type of business you conduct and adjust the security settings on your device to limit who can access your machine.
  • Protect your Money: When banking and shopping, check to be sure the site is security enabled. Look for Web addresses with “https://” or “shttp://”, which means the site takes extra measures to help secure your information. “Http://” is not secure.
  • Think before you act: Be wary of communications that implores you to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or asks for personal information.
  • Back it up: Protect your valuable work, music, photos, and other digital information by making an electronic copy and storing it safely.
  • Help the authorities fight cyber crime: Report stolen finances or identities and other cybercrime to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) and to your local law enforcement or state attorney general as appropriate.

The organization also advises consumers to:

  • Keep security software current: Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.
  • Automate software updates: Many software programs will automatically connect and update to defend against known risks. Turn on automatic updates if that’s an available option.
  • Protect all devices that connect to the Internet: Along with computers, smart phones, gaming systems, and other web-enabled devices also need protection from viruses and malware.
  • Plug & scan: “USBs” and other external devices can be infected by viruses and malware. Use your security software to scan them.

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