Truecaller App Aims to Help With Cell Spam and Abuse

A new app from mobile management company Truecaller could be a big help to cell phone users (everyone!) who are either tired of anonymous marketing or scamming spam, or concerned about being trolled, cyberbullied or stalked by anonymous bad guys online.

 

truemessenger

The app is called Truemessenger, and is available and free for Android phones now. No word on when an iPhone version will be available.

The way the app works with text messages is that as a message comes in from a number that is not in your contacts list, the app scans the number against its database of 1.7 billion numbers and when possible shows you a name or even a photo culled from a related social media account. Users can then set up rules to automatically deal with messages that are likely to be spam.

For victims of anonymous cyberbulling, the app could be a big help. No only will users of the app have a decent shot of knowing who the cyberbully is, they can also either report the bully or simply block all further messages from that number.

You can read more about the app and download it here.

 

 

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Who Owns Your Teen’s Social Media Accounts?

Well, parents, you don’t. Nor do you have much control over them even though your teen is a minor in your care, control and living under your roof.

teen-cell-phoneRight now in the U.S., millions of kids are old enough to have a smartphone, but not old enough to legally or safely use social media. Well, maybe they aren’t old enough to have a smartphone either, but they have one anyway. Survey results vary, but the general consensus is that the average age at which kids get a cell phone is around 10. Nowadays, that’s probably a smartphone – a handheld computer that is immediately connected to the world via the internet and social media.

Just having a smartphone isn’t dangerous in and of itself. In fact, if used responsibly, it’s actually safer to have one than not. Parents can contact the child any time, and the child in turn can call or message someone if there’s a problem. In a nutshell, that’s the good part of being connected.

Being connected also has a downside. Once a child is communicating digitally, a whole new set of risks presents itself – predator risk, cyberbullying, general creepers and exposure to adult “stuff” which can lead to growing up too fast, among other things. Social media can be a gateway to that connection outside a tween’s immediate group of friends.

The legality thing is less a big deal. Sure kids aren’t supposed join a social network before the age of 13, but they aren’t going to get in trouble for doing so. What they do lose is the protection provided by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which serves to protect them and their personal information from advertisers.

So what if your smartphone-wielding, digitally savvy 10-year old joins a social network without your permission? Allow us to explain.

One important consideration is that many tweens, when joining a social network for the first time, either immediately forget the password or fat finger the email address. On networks like Instagram, they don’t send a confirmation email before account activation, so an account can be established and be accessible via smartphone but the tween will have no way to change the email address, password or delete the account.

Let’s say a parent finds out about the rogue account. Perhaps there has been an incident of cyberbullying, or that the child has revealed too many personal details. That parent would naturally tell the child to delete the account. If the minor is unable to delete the account, the parent should be able to request that the social network do so. Turns out it’s not that simple.

In our opinion, if the parent of any minor, no matter the age, wants a minor’s social media account deleted, she should he able to make that happen. In the U.S., that’s not the case. If your child is between the ages of 13 and 17 – still a minor in your care – a social network is under no obligation to delete an account or even respond to your request. If your child is 13 or under, the social network is required to delete the account, but only if they have “actual knowledge” that the child is under 13.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who should be kind of a big deal on issues such as these, has the following to say on the matter:

“As a parent, you have rights covering the collection of your children’s information online when they’re under 13. Learn more about COPPA — the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act — which requires sites and services to get your approval before they collect, use or disclose your child’s information.”

If your under-13 child has joined a social network, that network has collected personal information on your child. If you contact the social network and tell them/prove that your child is under 13, they have actual knowledge. Again, it’s not that simple.

Some networks make it next to impossible for parents to contact them. Others simply ignore the requests unless there is proof, such as a birth date, in the profile of the account.

Regardless of their business model, the social networks are in the business of amassing large numbers of users. To allow parents to delete minors’ accounts would run contrary to that goal.

What we think parents deserve is the ability, upon furnishing proof of a minor’s age and the relationship, to have underage accounts deleted easily, and in a timely fashion. Until that happens, we advise parents to establish firm guidelines before handing over that first smartphone.

 

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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Cell Phones and 6-Year Olds. Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Every parent these days is required to decide when their children are old enough to have a cell phone. Consider this headline from ABC News:

Survey discovers 6-years-old is the average age of kids when they first receive a cell phone

When I saw that headline, it struck me as wrong. Not only wrong for a 6-year old to have a cell phone, but also wrong that over half of 6-year olds already have them. I’m the parent of three, including a 7-year old. I’ve seen a lot of kids in my time, including lately. I spend a lot of time studying kids and technology.

There’s no way the average 7-year old in the U.S. has a cell phone. 10 or 11, maybe, but not 7. I decided to dig in.

6-yr-old-cell-phoneAt least a dozen articles were written in early April (I read many of them) focusing on the finding that 53% of U.S. kids have a cell phone by their 7th birthday. The statistic was the teaser from a study by Vouchercloud, a “leading coupon brand”. I’m not going to link to their site here, but I went to Vouchercloud’s site and tried to find a copy of the complete survey, or at least a detailed blog post. I found nothing.

The outlets that covered the survey included ABC, Fox and Yahoo as well as a bunch of parenting bloggers and sites. All the articles I saw linked back to Vouchercloud’s website.

Through one of the writers who had covered the survey, I found that she got wind of it via a press release from Vouchercloud’s PR firm, UK-based 10 Yetis. I reached out to an individual at 10 Yetis and asked for a copy of the survey results. What she sent me was a copy of the press release announcing the survey, dated May 2014. 11 months ago.

According to the press release, Vouchercloud surveyed 2,290 U.S. parents (big sample size!) with kids between 11 and 16. The press release contained 5 links to Vouchercloud’s site, but no link to an actual set of survey results.

Again, I reached out to the PR firm and asked for the full survey results. In fact, I wrote the following:

“I thought I’d reach out one more time and ask for a copy of that study, or a link to it.

I don’t think there’s any way that 53% of American kids have a cell phone by their 7th birthday. I suspect that statistic, and perhaps the whole survey was made up.”

Not surprisingly, to me anyway, I haven’t heard back from them. I don’t expect to.

Lots of people ran with the story, taking the survey at face value. I feel for the mommy bloggers who are on the hunt for relevant content for their audience. Professional journalists who made it a story should have known better.

If parents who read one of the stories came away thinking that it’s normal for a 7-year old to have a phone, or not normal that their 7-year old doesn’t have one, that’s a bad thing.

We’ll change our tune is we see a copy of an actual survey, but we don’t expect that to happen.

As parents, we’re in the business of thinking critically and deciding what’s best for our children. Maybe no parents took these articles to heart, but digital parenting is a difficult enough task without dubious data floating around.

 

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Stats on Millennial Smartphone Use

A new Pew Research Center study released this week revels some fascinating statistics about U.S. adults and their cell phones.

Of note, but not surprising, is the fact that 64% of adults now own a smartphone – basically everyone under the age of 80 who can afford one.

What caught our eye is the statistics around millennial users (18 – 29 years old). Parents of teens probably agree that if younger users were surveyed, the results would be even more striking.

pew-internet-smartphoneNot only are young users more dependent on their smartphones, but three behaviors cited by the research were far more prevalent in young adults than in older ones – using a smartphone to avoid boredom, using a smartphone to avoid actual conversation and using a smartphone for directions.

  1. Avoiding boredom – This category is probably poorly defined. Much of the time it’s not about boredom; your phone is where everything is. People and conversation, games, news, pictures – much of what older adults still consume in analog form.
  2. Avoiding actual conversation – This one is slightly troublesome, but I’ll admit that I’ve done it. When making eye contact could lead to an awkward conversation, looking down at your phone is a near-perfect move.
  3. Using a smartphone for directions – This one is just plain good. When I first got my driver’s license, I was lost all the time. When I first worked in New York City, I never knew which subway to take. Those problems are things of the past.

Even if your teen’s smartphone is in your teen’s hand all the time, that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as interests are balanced. Avoiding some contact is okay, but kids do still need to be able to hold a conversation. Make sure to stay on top of that.

In the Pew research are also some not-so-headline-worthy tidbits: more than 40% of smartphone users also look up info about healthcare of job opportunities and almost 20% have used a smartphone to apply for a job! Things are different these days, and that’s mostly okay.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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Sexting – What if a School Employee Finds Your Phone

If you haven’t had a talk with your teens or pre teens about the dangers of sexting, a story in the news this week might get their attention.

teen-sextingAccording to the story, a Wichita high school student reported a missing phone, and a school resource officer responded to the report. While investigating, the resource officer came across a student with two phones and obviously thought that the extra phone could be the one. While trying to ascertain whether the extra phone belonged to the student who had reported it, the resources officer “saw” nude photos on the phone.

The police quickly became involved, although according to investigators with the Exploited and Missing Child Unit in Sedgwick County, charges will probably not be filed.

Obviously, there is a lot to not like in this story, whether you’re a parent or a teen:

  • Teens shouldn’t be sexting. It’s a bad idea
  • Phones should always have a lock screen password
  • The resources officer may have been overstepping when he started snooping through the phone (more below)
  • You do not want the Exploited and Missing Child Unit involved in your life, ever

As a teen, once you send a sexual image, you are at the mercy of the recipient to keep the photo or video out of the public eye. If you lose your phone and don’t have a home screen password, you are at the mercy of whoever finds your phone.

It goes without saying that this situation, and many like it, can be avoided entirely by teens not sexting in the first place. I’ll be telling my teens about this story over dinner tonight.

(Thoughts on the resource officer’s actions: We’re not sure what the laws or school policies are in Kansas, but we checked in with a local New Jersey Vice Principal. According to him, in NJ schools such an employee would only be permitted to search a student phone to ascertain the owner, not to look at the contents.)

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Teens, Cell Phones and Data Caps

We live in a 4-iPhone household. I have one, as do my wife and my two teenage boys. My daughter is nowhere near cell phone age yet. No rush, either.

When my middle child got a cellphone a couple of years ago, I reviewed our plan and adjusted our data cap accordingly. I am a fairly heavy phone user and never use more than a gig of data per month, so I settled on a shared 4-gigabyte plan and told the kids to keep it under a gig each. It shouldn’t have been a problem. It wasn’t, either, until this month.

verizon-data-capA couple of weeks ago I got the dreaded text message from Verizon saying that we had used 75% of our allotted data for the month. Since our billing cycle for the month was not yet 75% complete (not even close) I knew that we were probably going over.

I looked at the usage breakdown and saw that my older son was the culprit. I told him as much and that he would have to pay the overage if we did go over. It turns out that he was using his phone much more when not within reach of a wifi network (at work) and at school, where the service is spotty and lots of sites are blocked.

I told him that he would have to pay $20 per month for any month in which we exceeded the cap and he was the culprit. I thought that would put an end to his data splurge but guess what? It didn’t.

When we spoke about it last night, he told me that he had given it some thought, and had decided that “unlimited” wireless was worth $20/month.

If your kids are younger than 16, maybe this will give you an idea of how important teens’ phones are, and not just for communication. Entertainment and information weigh heavily in the equation. Their life is on that phone. Make sure that you, as a parent, also know what is on there.

 

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6 NJ Teens Face Child Porn Charges After Sexting Outbreak

Six teens from sleepy North Jersey towns including Little Falls and West Orange are hoping that an upcoming family court appearance will keep them from facing the worst-case scenario after what sounds like widespread sexting got out of hand.

In the case, six teens ranging in age from 14 – 17 have been charged with second-degree distribution of child pornography and fourth-degree possession of child pornography.

The sexting itself may have been going on for a while, but the investigation apparently began when it was reported that one teen had hacked into another’s Kik account (a messaging app), and distributed inappropriate photos to others.

The laws are currently behind the times when it comes to cases such as this. According to Brooklyn attorney Carrie Goldberg:

“The child porn laws didn’t anticipate selfies – and teen-to-teen sexting – at all,” Goldberg said. “Youth can be thoughtless and cruel – and you add a cell phone, and it can be a recipe for disaster.”

If the kids are charged as it stands now, those facing distribution of child porn charges could get up to 10 years on those counts alone if found guilty. Hopefully it won’t get that far, as the cases are headed to family court where a judge could go easy on them.

When we originally commented on the case in April, only two teens had been charged. The police investigation that followed including examining the teens’ phones, one of which had 39,000 messages on it.

It’s not just the laws that are behind the times when it comes to teen sexting – parents are too. It’s a reality these days that if teens are dating or hanging out with members of the opposite sex, some level of sexting may be going on. We can’t be sure that the inappropriate pictures were actually obtained by hacking a Kik account, but private accounts can be compromised. It’s more likely that the teen was sloppy with his password, or shared the pics with someone then claimed to have been hacked when things got out of hand.

Parents can play defense by talking to teens openly about the risks associated with sexting before it starts happening, and updating the conversation with frequent reminders, perhaps referencing cases like this one.

 

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How to Put Restrictions on Your Child’s First Cell Phone

If you’re a parent who is contemplating getting your child a first cell phone, there is an important and not all that well-known step that you should take before handing the phone to your child for the first time. We’re sure you know, or have heard, that minors should have a password on their phone. As a parent you should also have a password on your child’s phone, and yours is more important. Let us explain.

ios-restrictions-1A lot of (most?) parents we talk to are not aware that every iPhone comes equipped with parental controls, called iOS Restrictions. (Android phones have similar options, but may not be as easy to understand. You can find instructions here, but they may be different for some Android manufacturers.)

iOS Restrictions allow you as a parent to set up a separate password on your child’s phone, which should remain unknown to your child, that enables you to have a lot of control over what a child is able to download, view or purchase.

The Restrictions can be accessed on an iPhone by going to Settings -> General -> Restrictions and establishing a Restrictions password. Note: parents should write this password down and keep it in a safe place. If the Restrictions passwords is lost or misplaced, the phone will have to be restored to factory settings (wiped).

Once a Restrictions password is set, you will be required to input it to approve many actions, including the following:

  • App downloads
  • In-app purchases
  • iTunes purchases

In addition, parents can permanently set some important features such as:

  • Permissible content ratings
  • Accessible websites
  • Location settings
  • Photos

Especially for younger users, in a lot of the cases that we see where kids are at risk or do something inappropriate on their phones, parents don’t even know that the problematic thing is happening until after it is a problem. Most parents assume that their 12 year old isn’t using picture-messaging app Snapchat, or Yik Yak, an app favored by cyberbullies. Even if parents know that their 14-year-old is using Instagram, perhaps they don’t know that Geolocation is turned on, and their child is broadcasting the precise location of all of her photos.

Instead of finding yourself saying, “What? My daughter is on Instagram? That’s ridiculous, she’s 9 years old”, you could be saying “No, dear, you can’t download that Instagram app until you’re older.” Forewarned is forearmed.

If you have a tween or early teen who has had a phone for a while, it’s not too late to implement Restrictions. You’ll be safe going forward, and you can use it as an opportunity to discuss what apps are already on the phone, her current settings and how she is using the phone in general.

 

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Ultimatum for Students in Bernards NJ Middle School Sexting Outbreak

Middle school students in Bernards Township New Jersey face what looks like an easy decision today – delete all evidence of explicit photos from their cell phones by today, or face suspension and potential legal action.

Superintendent Nick Markarian said in an interview with News 12 NJ that the Bernards Township police had been involved, and that they are on board with the options as presented.

It seems obvious to us that if photos on a cell phone cause a disruption in class, and they also violate child pornography laws, administrators are going to get involved. The fact that they they brought in the police is no surprise. We were surprised to see some of the comments on News 12’s Facebook page, where some people clearly think the students’ rights are being violated:

“There is NO WAY the School or ANY public official should be looking at private peoples phones…Sexting or NOT…”

and

“While carrying around nude pictures of your classmates is wrong I think that there are REAL 4th Amendment issues here. The kids should be told that the ONLY correct response to “Show me your phone” is “Get a warrant””

Anybody focused on the kids’ rights here is fighting an uphill, and probably unwinnable battle. What goes on at school will be policed by the school if it causes a disruption.

For the parents involved, we hope they’re using this as an opportunity to review with their kids what is okay and what isn’t with respect to cell phones, and to actually take a look at those phones and see for themselves what is on them.

One last quote from the Facebook comments:

“Okay so picture 2 kids sitting in class “Hey jimmy check this out!”

It’s a picture of your 12-year-old daughter. Is that over reaching now?”

You don’t want that to be your son or daughter. Talk to your teens and tweens about the dangers of sexting.

 

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NJ Teen Sexting Case – Is It Revenge Porn or Child Pornography?

Or neither?

Teen sexting is happening every day, and the numbers of ways that it can end up badly for the teens involved are being played out in the media on an almost daily basis. The story this week – of two New Jersey teens who have been charged with child pornography – is just the latest example.

Since the two individuals charged are both minors, not many details in the case have been made public, but stories from the Star Ledger at nj.com and the Bergen Record at northjersey.com lay out the following:

A West Orange boy, 16-years-old, allegedly texted nude pictures of his ex girlfriend, a 17-year-old from Woodland Park, to another 16-year-old girl. The second girl then allegedly shared the pictures with friends and may have posted them online. Both of the 16-year-olds have been charged with distributing child pornography and endangering the welfare of a child, and more charges are expected.

It is interesting that this case is happening in New Jersey. In January of this year a law went into effect that will shield minors convicted of sexting offenses from being put on the Sexual Predator Registry, previously one of the most damaging results of such a conviction. Even short of that, a child pornography conviction will have a devastating impact on the future of these teens.

As lawmakers and parents deal with the fallout from sexting and revenge porn cases, a number of questions need to be answered:

For lawmakers – Should photos or video willingly shared between two teens be considered child pornography? If the photos are taken willingly, should the subject be protected to the same extent as would be the case for photos that were stolen or otherwise obtained without consent? Is a minor who voluntarily shares nude photos guilty of anything?

A number of states are in the process of crafting revenge porn legislation, but even some states who already have legislation in place are being criticized for its shortcomings. There have been reports recently that there may be a Federal revenge porn law introduced as soon as this month.

For parents – Is there any way to stop teens from sexting? Is it possible to know whether your teen has already been sexting?

Unless you want to take your teen’s phone away, the answer to the first question above for parents is communication. Explaining the risk by showing them a copy of the story linked above about the West Orange teens would be a good start. On the second question, if the sexting is happening one on one, there is no way for you to know unless you know the password for your teen’s phone, and even then he or she might be diligent about hiding it.

We would never blame the victim, but it bears mentioning that if the victim in the West Orange story had never sent the photos, or allowed them to be taken, in the first place, none of this would have happened. For parents of younger kids, you need to start early and be proactive about the communication – don’t wait until there is a serious boyfriend or girlfriend in the picture. Ensuring your teen is aware of the risks well before having the first impulse to send a racy picture is the best preparation.

 

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