| Another Reason to Take Privacy Settings Seriously

It looks like the end is here for, a site that held itself out as a social network and reputation management site, but was allegedly a low-level scam from start to finish. It’s another reminder of why people need to give more jerk dot comthan a little thought to their privacy settings on social networks, and understand how those networks are actually using your personal information.

According to a complaint filed yesterday by the Federal Trade Commission, the company harvested personal information from public Facebook profiles, and created profiles for more than 73 million people, including children, and labeled them as “jerk” or “not a jerk”. People finding their profile and wishing to amend it were encouraged to join the site for $30 and make changes, but even paid users were not able to make any changes whatsoever.

According to the FTC:

“In today’s interconnected world, people are especially concerned about their reputation online, and this deceptive scheme was a brazen attempt to exploit those concerns,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The website is still up, but does not appear to be functioning as of today. The FTC will next proceed with a hearing before an administrative law judge, but there is no indication of whether criminal charges will be filed.

jerk ftcThe FTC brief indicates that some of the victims believed that photos posted at were marked as private on Facebook. If that was the case, Facebook may have some explaining to do, but it is equally likely in our opinion that many people just don’t understand their Facebook privacy settings. It’s a great idea to double-check your and your family’s settings from time to time. was not a very sophisticated scam, but as first impressions can be lasting, people were understandably flustered. If you suspect that a social network or other website is misusing your personal information, you can file a complaint with the FTC here.

As long as Facebook is the go-to repository for personal information on the web, there will be people looking to exploit that data. You need to take steps that ensure that your family’s identities are safe online.



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Canadian Study Reveals Dicey Teen Social Media Statistics

A new study by Canadian firm reveals (again) that almost all kids are online, and many of them are participating in social media at an age that poses risks for them, and should raise some questions for parents who arguably would be serving their kids well by being more involved in their digital lives.

mediasmartsThe fact that older kids – we’re talking about teens here – are very active on social networks including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is not at all surprising.

What may be surprising, and is more problematic, is that a large number of younger users are active on social networks, and at the same time struggle to understand the privacy and safety implications.

Among the key findings for younger kids:

  • Among students in grades 4 – 6, 32% have a Facebook account and 16% have a Twitter account
  • 18% of 4th grade students post to social media at least weekly
  • 28% of 5th grade students post to social media at least weekly
  • 37% of 6th grade students post to social media at least weekly
  • 48% of students have lied about their age in order to join social networks
  • 90% of students don’t “believe” that strangers “should” have access to their social media, but only 50% have used privacy settings to block strangers
  • 68% of students believe that if a social network has a privacy policy, that means “they will not share my personal information with anyone”

This particular report does not focus on two online risks that we see all too often – cyberbullying and predator risk – but the fact that kids are social networking at a young age without a firm grasp on who sees what and how protected they are, or aren’t, highlights that fact that a better education effort is warranted.

The age limit for Facebook and Twitter is 13, so effectively 0% of kids in grades 4 – 6 “should” have an account. The study doesn’t get into what percentage of parents condone underage use, but the fact that kids admit to lying about their age to gain admission as early as 4th grade is a pretty good indication that a lot of parents are either unaware or indifferent.

Interestingly, Mediasmarts, the author of the study, Facebook and the Canadian Federation of Teachers are teaming together in an effort to educate kids on digital citizenship. One can hope that part of their commendable effort focuses on the parents, who really are the first line of defense against unsafe internet activity by teens and pre teens, and should be where kids turn first when they run into online problems.


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Is Your Teen Hiding Something Online?

teen-hiding-internet-activityThe answer is probably “yes”. According to a McAfee survey last year, 71% of teens admit to hiding some part of their internet activity from parents. It could be harmless (chatting with a girlfriend) or it could be something important like cyberbullying or browsing adult content. If you’re a parent wondering whether there is something about your teen’s online activity that he’s not telling you, below are some things to look for. Don’t forget about their phones. Most things that teens can do on a computer, they can also do an a cell phone.

Deleting browser history – If you check the browser history (by clicking the “History” tab in most browsers) on the computer that your teen uses, and it’s empty, that’s probably not an accident. He might have been looking at something embarrassing, or adult-oriented content. Feel free to ask him.

Minimizing or closing browser window – If your teen abruptly minimizes a window or closes out his browser window when you walk into the room, he is probably doing something he doesn’t want you to know about.

Deleting text messages – Check your teen’s text messages. If the message log is empty, one of two things have happened. Either he recently deleted them, or he exclusively uses a messaging app such as WhatsApp or Kik.

Using more than one browser – If your teen uses a shared computer, and has something to hide, he probably doesn’t use the browser that you use. If you’re using Internet Explorer he is probably using Firefox or Chrome. You can check the browsing history on those too.

delete search historyDelete search history – If your teen has turned off “Web History” in the Google settings, it’s a red flag. If Web History is turned on but the history log is empty, he has deleted it. You can ask him what he has been searching for.

Using a proxy or in private browsing – If your teen is using an anonymity software proxy such as Tor, or “in private browsing” using Google Incognito Mode or something similar, in effect he is hiding everything. Some people have a desire to remain out of the sight of the government and advertisers, and others browse anonymously for reasons you wouldn’t approve of.

More than one email address – I’m sure that you know your teen’s email address. Does he have another one other than the one that you use to contact him. This does not necessarily have to be a red red flag. Some people use a throwaway email address to sign up for things and avoid subsequently getting spam. It could be, though, that he uses it to communicate with people you don’t know about.

Duplicate social media accounts – Some teens are very aware of the fact that parents, college admissions officers and school officials might check them out on social media. If they’re willing to put in enough effort, that might have two accounts on Facebook or other networks – one clean one and one that their friends actually use to connect.  It’s good news that college admission folks won’t see the “bad” stuff, but neither will you if you go looking.

With teens who are very active online, it is nearly impossible for parents to stay on top of everything they are doing. A teen who has already been hiding activity is unlikely to fess up completely, but if your teen knows that you are paying attention and care about what he’s up to online, that alone should be a good first step toward him acting more responsibly, or not slipping into bad habits that he might regret later.


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Was That Account Hacked or Password Stolen?

Here’s a tricky situation – your child says his email or social media account was hacked, or has some kind of virus, and you have no way of verifying whether it is true. Maybe it’s your account that was hacked.

We hear of situations where a teen posts something inappropriate to social media, and when confronted by a parent, claims that his account was hacked and it wasn’t actually him posting. What should the parent believe? Now there’s a solution that looks like it does a good job telling you whether an account has actually been compromised, and the site is Have I Been Pwned?

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Launched in late 2013, the site could not be easier to use, and has recently garnered a lot of interest after the Snapchat security breach was reported last week. Users (or their parents) simply enter an email address or social media account name on the site (no account registration required) and with a single mouse click, the site will tell you whether a security breach has occurred.

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The site also offers a free monitoring service. You can enter an account name and receive an email if a breach occurs in the future. That’s good technology at the right time.


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Teen Online Identity Theft

Is teen online identity theft a big deal?

In the wake of Target’s huge identity theft case last week, parents across the country are double-checking credit card accounts in fear that they themselves were a victim. Identity theft can cost money, cause hassles and even affect one’s credit rating.

Teens, especially those who are active online, need to understand that they can become victims as well. Recent reports indicate that incidents of child and teen identity theft have been rising.

Identity theft is defined as any time someone uses your identity or personal information for their gain, and that gain is sometimes but not always financial. Some incidents end in embarrassment, such as when a friend steals your Facebook password or picks up your phone while you’re logged in, and others that involve theft of a social security number, banking information or credit card details can cause financial loss.

Talk to your teens or pre teens about what they can do to keep themselves as safe as possible online.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 11.10.03 AMKeep your passwords private – Recent research by the Family Online Safety Institute reveals that 34% of teens have shared user names and passwords with a person other than a parent or family member. Don’t do this. If others can post to your account, even as a joke, you can fall victim to something that permanently damages your reputation.

Use a password on your phone’s home screen – It is worth the hassle. If your phone is lost, stolen or is picked up by a prankster friend, you could be at risk.

Be wary of phishing scams – Phishing is a deceit, usually via email, where someone attempts to glean private data by impersonating a trusted institution. If you get an email that is the least bit suspect, pick up the phone and call the company that claims to have sent it.

Use privacy settings – Keep your social media accounts set to private, and don’t accept friend requests unless you are sure you know the other person.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.13.21 AMWere you redirected? – Just because you think you are clicking on a legitimate link (i.e., you won’t necessary be taken to Walmart’s website. You may have been directed to another, more sinister site. Check the address bar to make sure you are at the intended site.

Pictures – Even if you’re proud of your new driver’s license or passport, don’t post a picture of it online. Recent cases, particularly targeting Instagram users, reveal that identity thieves are taking personal information directly from pictures posted on social media.

Beware of unprotected wifi networks – If you’re at school or a restaurant and there is free wifi, it is probably not secure. Be careful performing financial transactions or entering passwords if you are not sure that the network you are on is secure.

Things online change frequently, both In terms of best practices and how the bad guys will try to outwit you.  Be aware, take precautions and stay up to date on how to keep your personal information and accounts safe.


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Memoriis – A Helpful Tool for Modern Parents

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 9.15.48 AMYour filing cabinets and photo albums are out of touch. Now what?

Much of the infrastructure that we as parents (we’re in our mid 40s) have used in the building and saving of our children’s and family history is now obsolete. The memories and documents aren’t, but the methods used to store them are. That’s 22 years of clutter for us. Consider just the photos and video we’ve amassed; they’re scattered across hard drives, Flickr, Facebook and physical photo albums.

I was very interested to hear that two former colleagues, Craig and Robert Kaufman of New York, have founded Memoriis, a new vehicle for archiving, organizing and sharing the things that are either important now or will be for years or generations to come.

According the Memoriis’ website:

We are two brothers on a mission… to help you easily collect, organize, store, find and beautifully view your important documents, photos, and videos in one safe and secure place. Memoriis is designed to help you do just that with the help of our Resource Library, a place which provides direction on how to organize anything from wills to baby photographs to videos of your child’s first steps.

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Your Memoriis cloud storage footprint is organized into big spaces called “Chests”, and smaller sub-spaces, called “Boxes”. You might decide to have a Chest for each family member, then create Boxes for items such as health records, school photos, financial documents or anything else. In order to avoid clutter, it is recommended that you Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 9.33.25 AMcreate a “general” box that will function like a to do list, to preliminarily put items into before organizing them.

Once you’ve set up your Memoriis chests and boxes, you can view your content from the Album View option or the Timeline View option. As you set up boxes, try to keep the confidential info in separate boxes from content you’ll be likely to share. If you want to get grandma, your uncle or your best friend involved, you can grant secure access to any box, to anyone you choose.

Memoriis is currently in beta, and their initial offering is free for the first three months. Users are allotted up to 5 gigabytes of storage space. After the beta period or 3 month trial, users can pay $5.99 per month (or $59.99/year) for 50 gigabytes, or $9.99 per month ($99.99/year) for 100 gigabytes.

With Memoriis, you won’t have to remember where anything is, just remember your password. Photos, health records and financial documents are stored securely and can be accessed from any screen you happen to be looking at. Give it a try while the trial is still free.


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Thoughts on the 2013 Do Not Track Kids Act

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 8.31.10 AMThis week Federal Senators and Representatives got together and introduced the bicameral 2013 Do Not Track Kids Act. The new law, which should see widespread support, picks up where the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) leaves off, extending protection for minors who spend time online, and their personal information. It just doesn’t go far enough.

According to Senator Markey:

“…kids are spending more time online, at younger ages and with more companies watching. When it comes to kids and their use of the Internet in the new mobile environment, it is especially important that the strongest privacy protections are in place so that children do not have personal information collected or disclosed.”

So far so good, right? Well, our principal objection to the Act as proposed is that while it does do more to protect minors from advertisers, it does not improve protections for minors against predators or internet users who would otherwise harass or bully them. Are you more worried about your child being stalked online by and advertiser or a predator?

Our misgivings aside, there are some positive provisions put forward in the bill:

Eraser Button – the idea of an internet eraser button, made popular by a new California law passed this year, makes it easier for minors to fully delete social media accounts. While the California law applies to minors 13 and under only, the Federal Act would guarantee similar protection for minors 15 and under.

Targeted Marketing and Collection of Personal and Location Information – for teens aged 13 – 15, advertisers would be required to obtain the consent of the minor before serving targeted advertising or collecting personal or location information.

Here’s what we’d like to see included in this or other legislation:

Real Age Verification – it is widely known that for most websites, the age verification system relies on self-affirmation. If I say I’m 20 years old, the site believes it. We would like to see an effective age verification system in place.

Real Protection for Minors – it may not go too far to demand parental consent before any minor is allowed to disclose any personal or location information online, where predators and cyberbullies are known to be active.

Feel good protection from advertisers falls short of combating some of the most serious issues facing minors online. Do you have thoughts on the issue? Please feel free to let us know in the comments.


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coppaNOW – A New Resource for Privacy-Minded Parents

coppaNOW is a much needed resource for parents who want the latest news and best practices regarding online privacy protection for their children, without having to comb through Government websites.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 10.03.23 AMNot many parents that we talk to have heard of, let alone given a lot of thought to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). We think that this is likely to change over time, and probably soon. COPPA was put into law in 1998, and spells out what website operators must do in order to collect personally identifying information from users under the age of 13, and what responsibilities website operators have to protect children’s privacy and safety online.

Since getting parental consent for users under 13 is practically impossible, COPPA is the reason that most social media sites state in their terms of service that users must be at least 13 years of age. For those who follow the topic, it is well known that young users can currently lie about their age with impunity and be allowed to join a site. And the sites are happy to have them.

As a parent, you are probably more concerned with your son or daughter’s online safety that protecting him or her from advertisers, but both are worthy goals.

Because COPPA is so easy to circumvent for pre teens, it has been the subject of much debate and controversy. For parents hoping to keep up to speed with COPPA developments, there is a new website that one can turn to. coppaNOW was launched last month by Greg Kudasz, a North Carolina native, Microsoft veteran and long time child advocate. According to the site:

This site aims to be a repository of information and resources about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. The site includes a News section which is divided in to content including original material written here, external articles and links gleaned from different places including Google News, Twitter feeds and press releases and blogs from the FTC.

In what we take as a sign that COPPA’s prominence is on the rise, sites that had previously ignored COPPA requirements, such as, have recently come under more scrutiny by lawmakers and the public. Check out coppaNOW for the latest developments.


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What Facebook’s Proposed New Rules Mean for Parents

Facebook published two proposed updates this week, to their Data Use Policy and their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. The proposed changes largely relate to what data they collect (from you or your child, the user) and how they use it. The “how they use it” part mainly relates to advertising.

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 10.26.46 AMWhat do parents of teens and pre teens need to know?

First, since Facebook is making these changes now, (I’m not sure I believe that these are merely “proposed” changes) it is a pretty good indication that there will be changes in the future. Any rights and privacy that your child has or expects now may go away at some point.

Second, Facebook points out that if a user posts content to Facebook, it is the same as emailing it to them. You or your child is giving content to them, not merely posting it.

“you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

Third, Facebook clearly states that they will give your information to advertisers, or allow advertisers to use it. They collect identifying information in addition to a user’s name and photos(s). They also collect such information as your IP address (including your location) and mobile phone number. Facebook claims that if they do supply advertisers with information about a user, they first remove personally identifying information. It is unclear how they define personally identifying information. How much information do you want advertisers to have about your child?

Fourth, registered sex offenders may be using Facebook. While Facebook’s terms prohibit sex offenders from joining, and it is relatively easy for a user to report a sex offender on the site, sex offenders could easily joining using an assumed identity. Furthermore, courts in Illinois and North Carolina have ruled this year that it is illegal to ban sex offenders from Facebook, further muddying the water.

Finally, setting or adjusting your privacy settings does not appear to be any easier or more user friendly under the proposed changes. It still will take some work to be private if that is your goal. According to Mashable, “privacy controls are still buried in at least six different menus.”

If your kid is under 13, she shouldn’t be on Facebook according to the site’s rules and COPPA guidelines (Read: What is COPPA and Why You Should Care). Whatever her age, keeping her privacy protected will still take some work, and is subject to changes. Advertisers want to target your kids based on what they like, where they check in and what they search for. Are you OK with that?


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