Ford CEO Mark Fields on mobility, connected cars & teen safety

Larry Magid interviews Ford CEO Mark Fields founder Larry Magid interviews Ford CEO Mark Fields

It may seem odd for an Internet safety site like to be featuring an interview with the CEO of a car company, but cars are no longer just motor vehicles. They’re connected computers on wheels.

And Ford is no longer just in the car and truck business. As you walk around the parking lot, garage and labs at the company’s newly opened Silicon Valley Research Center, you do see cars and trucks along with all sorts of electronic gear. But there are also bicycles which, said Ford CEO Mark Fields, are among the many “mobility” technologies the company is looking at. “We’re thinking of ourselves not only as just an auto company,” he said in an interview, “but we’re also thinking ourselves as a mobility company (scroll down to listen),” He said that Ford is “thinking broadly about a lot of these big societal issues such as congestion in large cities,” and added, “we want to help be part of the solution.” He said it’s all about experiments ranging from bicycles and  cars with sensors looking for open parking spaces

I didn’t see a Ford logo on any of the bicycles but the company is equipping them with sensors to collect data about how people are getting from place to place. “It is a bit of opening the lens on our business, he said. “We’re first and foremost a car and truck company,” but he added “it’s important for us to experiment and to think from a consumer standpoint,” including “making customer’s lives easier getting from point A to point B.” He also said that expanding to other modes of mobility is “a good business opportunity.”

The company is also experimenting with what Fields called a “car swapping” app. Ford employees, many of whom drive company cars, have access to an app that lets them swap cars with fellow employees. An example, said Fields might be “I’m looking for a Mustang for the weekend,” in the hopes that a Mustang driving colleague might want to switch cars for a couple of days. So far, the app is only for employees, not the general public.

Ford is also experimenting with ride sharing services. “in other parts of the world we’re testing small mini-buses. Folks are OK getting into a vehicle and sharing it but they want the appropriate amount of person space so we’re looking at seating configurations,” said Fields.

Safety issues for teen drivers

One of several apps that enable parents to monitor teen driving

One of several apps that enable parents to monitor teen driving

I asked Fields, the father of two kids who are now driving, about teen safety and, of course he said that “safety is the top priority for our customers, whether it’s parents or kids.” He said that the company’s new Sync 3 connectivity system is designed to reinforce drivers having their “eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel” on a system that can be activated by touch screen or audio commands. Fields didn’t discuss technologies that allow parents to monitor or control their kids driving but there are several apps and devices that enable to parents to know how fast their teen is driving, where they are driving and even if they are driving erratically.

Broadening the business

Calling itself a mobility company is a lot like a newspaper or radio station calling itself a media company or a railroad saying that’s in in the transportation business, not the train business. Ford is known for making motorized vehicles that move people and things, but as the company looks forward, it’s starting to think about all the possible ways to move humans and objects from place to place.

Silicon Valley connection

Fields said that Ford wants to be part of the “Silicon Valley eco-system” and to that end, the new lab, which Ford says is “one of the largest automotive manufacturer research labs in Silicon Valley,” expects to employ 125 researchers, engineers and scientists by the end of the year. The lab is run by Dragos Maciuca, who came to Ford from Apple. Ford is also working with Google-owned Nest to deliver data from Nest home sensors (currently thermostats and smoke detectors) to the car. If smoke is detected at home, an alarm will go off in car with a notice on the car’s infotainment system.

Like Google, Ford is also experimenting with autonomous vehicles along with partners from University of Michigan, M.I.T. and Stanford. The company is providing a Fusion Hybrid autonomous research car to Stanford’s engineering program so that researchers can test planning and prediction algorithms.

Remote driving

In addition to bicycles, I also saw a golf cart at the facility. Actually what I saw was a Ford engineer sitting at what looked like an auto-simulator but he was remotely driving a golf cart located at Georgia Institute of Technology. This technology could come to market far sooner than autonomous cars, which are still years away, and could be used for specific applications such as off-road services or valet parking.

Ford is also working on improved voice recognition systems not only for infotainment and navigation but to assist in driving too.

No flying machines

I asked Fields whether I’ll ever achieve my boyhood dream of having my own personal flying machine and all he could say was that “we’re busy working on alternative fuels and autonomous vehicles but the Jetsons, I think, are still a cartoon.”

Click below to listen to Larry Magid’s entire 12 minute interview with Ford CEO Mark Fields.

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Facebook to issue Amber alerts — exclusive interview with John Walsh


Facebook and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) are teaming up to put Amber Alerts about missing children on Facebook News Feeds, but only if they are in the targeted search area for an abducted child.

A game changer

John Walsh

John Walsh

John Walsh, the founder of NCMEC, former host of America’s Most Wanted and host of The Hunt on CNN called this partnership “a game changer” (scroll down to hear an exclusive podcast interview). He said the alerts will have pictures of the child, his or her height and weight, a description of the clothing he or she was last seen wearing, a description of any vehicle that may be involved and links to NCMEC missing child posters with more details. Users have the option to share the alert with friends.

Walsh said that the chance of finding a missing child are much higher if people are looking, and that the first 24 hours (really the first few hours, he said) are critical.

He also pointed out that people can see their Facebook News Feeds during times when they might not be watching TV,  listening to the radio or driving by a lighted freeway sign with an Amber Alert. Besides, the amount of detail available on Facebook will be much greater, further increasing the chance that someone might spot the child.

Reaching the right demographic

Another important aspect of this service is that it reaches younger audiences who might not even be tuned into traditional TV and radio. “This is a game changer for a younger generation,” he said. “I’m sure my 20-year-old son and every 14-, 15-, 13-year-old kid that’s on Facebook … When they get that regional Amber Alert, if they’ve seen that kid, I think they’re going to get online and do something about it.”

A personal tragedy led to Walsh’s life’s work

Walsh became involved in the search for missing children after his own child, Adam Walsh, was abducted and murdered in 1981. He helped found the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and has remained active with NCMEC ever since. His wife Reve is on the board of NCMEC (as am I) and his son Callahan works at NCMEC.

In the interview, Walsh said that “I can only fantasize what would have happened in Adam’s case back in 1981 if we had the tools we have now.” He said that, in 1981, the FBI refused to get involved in Adam’s case because looking for children was not something the FBI did. Now they’re an important partner of the National Center.

Walsh personally lobbied Congress to make the Amber Alert system a federal program, and said that putting Amber Alerts on Facebook will only increase its reach. “With the huge population of social media on smartphones, this will make it easier to find missing children a lot faster.”

The recovery rate for missing children has grown from 62%  in 1990 to 97% today, according to NCMEC and, said Walsh, online media and TV play a big part in helping to find those children. The Justice Department reports that 723 children have been recovered as a result of Amber Alerts.

Click below to listen to the full 11-minute podcast with John Walsh and co-director Larry Magid.

 Disclosure: Larry Magid serves on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children board of directors and is also co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support form Facebook.

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Connected devices at CES raise security, privacy and safety questions

It seems as if almost every exhibitor at CES was showing things that connect to other things.

LG showed off washing machines and kitchen appliances that send messages to smartphones. Schlage announced a Bluetooth-enabled smart lock that enables iPhone users to use Siri voice commands to enter their house. Kolibree and Oral-B both showed off connected toothbrushes, and there was even a baby pacifier called Pacif-i, billed as the “worlds first Bluetooth smart pacifier.”

Basis Peak is one of many connected gadgets shown at CES

Basis Peak is one of many connected gadgets shown at CES

Fitness bands like the Basis Peak that send your activity and pulse to your phone, and to the cloud, were all around. Vital Connect showed off a Band-Aid size patch that can send your heart rate, body temperature, posture and EKG to health providers via smartphones. Automakers showed off cars that can “phone home” to transmit data that monitors systems in real time.

And, of course, drones were everywhere. These flying machines have wireless controllers and the ability not just to fly through real clouds, but to transmit data to virtual ones.

Together, these and thousands of other connected gadgets are referred to as the “Internet of Things,” or IoT. Eventually, the Internet of Things will be bigger than the Internet of people, since there are a lot more devices in the world than humans. (And by the way, humans aren’t the only living creators to be connected — thanks to pet trackers like the Tagg GPS Plus, we also have an Internet of dogs and cats.)

Like the Internet of people, the IoT has its own privacy, safety and security risks, which are not lost on regulators from Washington, D.C., and individual states.

Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez was at the Consumer Electronics Show and pointed out that connected devices often share “vast amounts of consumer data, some of it highly personal, thereby creating a number of privacy risks.”

There are also heightened security risks. At last year’s Black Hat security conference, researchers demonstrated how it was possible to hack cars, energy management systems and smart locks.

Safety issues abound as well. A hacked car or drone or even a connected robot could wind up threatening life and limb. So far, the hacks against Sony, Target and thousands of other institutions have caused embarrassment and loss of money and privacy, but not physical injuries or loss of life. But if “things” are hacked, the stakes could be a lot higher.

Risks associated with the Internet of Things are not lost on Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. Intel is betting on IoT by creating chips and devices for drones, smartwatches, robots and other connected devices. During his CES keynote, the Intel CEO even showed off a button-sized wearable computer called Curie, which can be sewn onto clothing.

In an interview, Krzanich acknowledged the risks, but said “there’s a lot of research going into how to really improve security right now.” He pointed out that “every technology advancement brings great value and great potential, but brings some level of risk and our job is to manage the risk.”

When asked about the risk of drones, Krzanich said that there is software on some GPS-equipped drones to prevent them from flying near airports and cameras and sensors to avoid colliding into other drones or buildings. Still, there are risks that can’t be avoided, like someone flying a camera-equipped drone over someone’s backyard or putting drones that don’t have GPS or collision avoidance software in the hands of owners who are using them irresponsibly.

I wonder if police departments are gearing up for drone abuse enforcement. If not, they should be.

Certainly federal regulators — from the Federal Communications Commission to the FTC to Homeland Security to the Federal Aviation Administration — are looking at how to protect the public interest when it comes to the vast array of connected things.

The FCC needs to think about the use of radio spectrum because the IoT is competing with broadcast, data, voice and sorts of other demands for the limited amount of available radio frequencies. The Department of Homeland Security is rightfully concerned about the potential of devices to be used to harm people or deliver explosives or other threats, especially if they get into the hands of terrorists. The FTC is responsible for helping to protect our privacy and has plenty on its plate when it comes to the potential abuse of all the data these “things” are collecting and transmitting. The FAA is working on how to regulate drones to make sure they don’t crash into airplanes, each other or people on the ground.

Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, worries that government regulation could go too far, especially at the early stages of technologies where over-regulation could wind up interfering with innovation.

“The better alternative to top-down regulation,” he argues, “is to deal with concerns creatively as they develop, using a combination of educational efforts, technological empowerment tools, social norms, public and watchdog pressure, industry best practices and self-regulation, transparency, and targeted enforcement of existing legal standards.”

In general, I agree with Thierer, but I still think there is a role for government to protect the public not against all these connected “things,” but against the people who misuse them.


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Researcher sets the record straight on teen sexting

I rarely blog about other people’s blog posts, but the post, “Chances are, Your Teen has NOT Sexted” by Dr. Justin Patchin is worthy of amplification and further comment. Patchin, who is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, himself blogged about yet another blog post from CNN that distorts the prevalence of teen sexting with the headline, “Chances are, your teen has sexted.”

Common trap

The CNN article itself was relatively balanced and, as a journalist who often writes for publications whose editors write the headlines, I know that it’s possible that the click-worthy headline was written by someone other than the author, CNN’s Kelly Wallace. And, in her defense, Wallace’s article and headline were not all that different from a post from Drexel University’s PR department, drawing attention to research from that university.

While it’s hard to blame a journalist for basing a story on what appears to be a reliable source, it’s yet another example of falling into the traps that I wrote about in a Poynter blog post last year titled, “Beware sloppiness when reporting on surveys.

Bad sampling

Although this number wasn’t in the CNN story or the Drexel post (which did link to the full article), the survey sample consisted of 175 undergraduate students ”recruited from a large Northeastern university,” according to the abstract.

The problem with that sample is not only its size but the population itself. Even assuming the data is representative of undergraduates at that university, one can’t assume that those undergraduates represent the entire population of current or recent teens. There are obvious economic, academic, regional and often race and even gender differences between students at a particular school and the entire population of people their age.

There is more reliable data

The CNN story said that “More than half the undergraduate students who took part in an anonymous online survey said they sexted when they were teenagers, according to the study by Drexel University.” But, as Patchin points out, other studies show that far fewer teens engage in sexting. Patchin and his colleague summarized the research in 2010 and found that “between 4 and 19% of respondents had admitted to sending a sexually explicit image of themselves to others.” The Center’s own study, with data collected in 2010 from a random sample of over 4,000 middle and high school students, found that “7.7% of students had sent a naked or semi-naked image of themselves to others” and a very credible study by federally funded Crimes Against Children Research Center found that “less than 10% of youth reported appearing in or creating nude or nearly nude images or receiving such images in the past year.” Unlike the tiny study of undergraduates from one university, that study was based on a nationally representative sample of 1,560 students between the ages of 10 and 17.

This well documented data from credible sources doesn’t lead to flashy headlines, but it does paint a far more realistic picture of teenage sexting in America.

Exaggerated consequences of sexting

There are plenty of other important issues that Patchin touches upon in his post, including the assertion by both CNN and the Drexel press office that kids are taking an extreme risk when sexting. The biggest risk is probably the possibility that they will be caught and punished and, as the articles point out, it is possible for a teen to be charged with manufacturing, possession and distribution of child pornography — a serious crime that can lead to jail time and being put on a sex offender registry. But even that fear, while not out of the question, is greatly exaggerated. The vast majority of prosecutors today are more interested in helping teens modify their behavior than throwing the book at them. Such extreme charges are rarely filed unless there are such factors as extortion or intimidation, mass distribution or an adult playing a role in soliciting, receiving or distributing the images.

A number of studies have shown that the consequences of sexting, in most cases, are not severe. In fact, some consider it a form of “safe sex.” As Patchin points out, “to engage in sexting, it is a somewhat calculated decision based on the (probably accurate) belief that the risks to them are less for sexting than for engaging in sex. They are not going to get pregnant or catch any one of the many scary sexually-transmitted diseases.”

Why this matters

Good research and accurate reporting of research are important because they can influence parents, teens themselves and policy makers. Drexel University is a respected institution and CNN is an influential news source, and when information comes from these sources, people tend to believe it and very few are likely to dig deeper to find the real story. It’s important for university news departments to be accurate about the limits of research from their faculty and graduate students and incumbent on journalists to fully understand the study before repeating someone else’s summary. Most policy makers aren’t likely to read the actual reports and there is almost no way the general public will read them, especially since many of these reports are behind a paywall (it costs $39.95 to read past the abstract on this Drexel study).

The good news

So, thanks to Dr. Patchin for pointing out that most kids don’t sext and that kids are learning and getting smarter when it comes to sexting.

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Empowering youth to combat bullying & cyberbullying

community mattersYouth Bullying (and adult bullying too) has been around for a very long time, but over the past couple of decades it’s evolved — hence the term “cyberbullying.”

At the end of the day, bullying — whether in school or online — is still bullying so strategies to combat cyberbullying have to be integrated into the entire school climate.

There are a lot of programs that seek to accomplish this and what the good ones have in common is the understanding that young people themselves are an essential part of the solution.  One such program, Community Matters, has been around since 1996.  The Northern-California based non-profit reports that it has worked with more than 1,000 schools, agencies and organizations across 30 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and Canada.

Community Matters' CEO Rick Phlipps

Community Matters’ CEO Rick Phillips

And, as its CEO and founder Rick Phillips said in an interview (scroll down to listen to 14 minute podcast) the organization’s strategy is to “see the young people in our schools (including those who may have engaged in bullying) not just as the perpetrator but to see them as the solution.” He added that “young people are in the best position to intervene because they see, hear and know about these things before an adult ever knows about them.”  He said that “young people are powerful,” but “adults underutilize youth.

Click below to listen to the interview;

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Apps that encourage positive comments

A pair of relatively new apps are designed specifically to encourage positive comments. To learn more, CBS News Tech Analyst Larry Magid (who is also co-director of and founder of  spoke with Pascal Lorne of Let and Calvin Liu, creator of Outpour.

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Safety & civility advice for anonymous apps

After School’s iTunes page promises to let you post anonymously

After School’s iTunes page promises to let you post anonymously

A growing number of apps allow people to post anonymously. Some of the better known ones include, Whisper, Secret and Yik Yak but there are new ones all the time, including After School, that’s been downloaded more than 100,000 times including by students from more than 14,000 U.S. high schools, according to

As Recode pointed out, After School’s seven-person staff can’t possibly police all of the posts on this growing service, though the company says it does employ software to look for particularly alarming words like “kill,” “cut” and “bomb.” As TechCrunch reported, the app has been associated with numerous bullying incidents.

There are also reports of gun threats, which prompted the Superintendent of Flushing (Michigan) Community Schools to write, “The purpose of the app continues to be in question and very concerning. Not only does it allow for individuals to post anonymous, and often times inappropriate statements and pictures, it also allows the app company access to personal information from an individual’s Facebook account.” The app was temporarily removed from the Apple app store and later reinstated with a 17+ rating.
Yik Yak has also had its share of criticism, which prompted the company to geo-fence the app so it can’t be accessed from high school campuses. was once the poster-child for anything goes posts, but was recently acquired by IAC with new management, a chief safety officer and a commitment to better police its service.

What all these apps have in common is the ability for people to post comments or ask questions without having to reveal their real name or, in some cases, without even having to use an account name or alias.

As I discuss in this post, there are some very positive aspects to anonymous apps, but of course there are some risks including the ability to use the app for bullying, to spread false or malicious gossip, to embarrass people, for unwanted sexual solicitation and harassment or, in some cases, to post inappropriate photos.

Nothing new

These concerns are nothing new — we’ve been talking about them since the Internet first became commercialized back in the 90′s. And while the specific details vary according to the app, some general principles apply for all apps, whether anonymous or not.

Know how to report. Some apps have reporting features that can alert the company’s customer service staff if someone is being abusive. Learn to find and use these features where they exist.

Call for help if you’re frightened. If someone threatens you in a way that gives you reason to fear for your safety, reach out immediately for help. Contact school authorities, parents or law enforcement if you are concerned about your safety.
You’re never completely anonymous or above the law. Even though these apps might be able to hide your identity from other users, there are ways to track people down through Internet protocol addresses, cell phone identifiers, and other clues. Both hackers and law enforcement (with proper authorization) have tools to find you.

Know what the app knows about you and your friends. It’s not uncommon for mobile social media apps to collect information about you and your friends. Pay attention to any disclosures and be extra careful about allowing the app to contact Facebook friends or people on your contact list on your behalf. Also be aware of the apps geolocation features, including tracking where are and sharing it with others.

You are responsible for your behavior. Users are both morally and legally responsible for how they behave on these apps. In addition to the possibility of prosecution, you can be banned from using the app by the operator if you violate their terms of service and there can be other repercussions from school and other authorities if you violate community rules of behavior.

Disagree respectfully. Anonymous apps often give people an opportunity to engage in spirited debate around just about any issue including politics, religion, sexuality — even your favorite smartphone or computer. These debates can be great, but they should also be respectful.

Don’t out others. Spreading rumors or revealing secrets about others is a form of bullying. Just because you know something about someone, doesn’t give you the right to share it without permission. Also, respect other people when sharing photographs. It’s best to ask permission before sharing a photo with anyone else in it and common decency to take down (or untag) a person who objects to being in a photo.

Don’t invite trouble. Sometimes people ask for trouble, by posting questions about themselves like “am I pretty” or “do you think I’m fat.” Sadly, there are people who will sometimes pounce on people who ask questions like this. Think before you ask any questions about yourself or others.

People online have feelings. This should be obvious but sometimes we forget that people on the other side of the screen are really people with genuine feelings. It’s not uncommon for folks who are pretty considerate when they meet others in person to forget their manners when they encounter them online. One thing to consider is that you don’t know the mental or emotional state of the person on the other end. What may seem to you to be just funny or mildly annoying could be emotionally devastating to that person, depending on how they interpret it and what is going on in their lives.

Why you should ‘share thoughtfully. As we say in’s A Parents Guide to Mobile, both kids and adults “need to know that what they post is a reflection on them. Talk with them about respecting their own and others’ dignity and privacy by being aware of what they’re “saying” with both words and images.”

Remember that what you post may be permanent. Your posts may appear to go away, but chances are they’ll remain online for a long long time. And even if you delete them, there’s always a chance that someone could have copied and reposted it.

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National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s ‘Tell a Trusted Adult’ video

A great way to teach young children the importance of reaching out for help if someone makes them feel uncomfortable. This is an effective video the explains what a “trusted adult” is and why children need to trust their own judgement when they feel that someone may be acting inappropriately.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 10.38.16 AM

Watch video here

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Online safety is not just about ‘life’

One of the sessions at the Family Online Safety Institute conference that was held in Washington in November focused on re-defining online safety. During the session, a couple of smart people who I respect a great deal suggested that we should drop the word “online” from online safety and drop “digital” when we talk about digital citizenship. It’s not about the online world, they say, “it’s about life.”

I respectfully disagree.

The argument

I’m not sure I can do justice to their argument, but I’ll try and hope to spawn a conversation where others can perhaps better articulate the argument that there is really no need to focus on online risks and harms because, at least for youth, there is a blurring of online and offline life. One argument – and I agree with this one – is that negative online behaviors, such as cyberbullying, are reflections of offline behaviors and, indeed, research has shown that cyberbullying is often an extension of school-based bullying. There is also the argument that the antidote to many potential online dangers is the same critical thinking that’s always been important to protect yourself, long before the Internet came along. I agree, which is why I sometimes start my Internet safety talks by saying that most of what I’m about to say could have been said by your great grandmother – treat people respectfully, think before you act and be aware that not everything you see or hear is true.

Things my great grandmother couldn’t know

But there are some things my great grandmother could have never anticipated and, as wise as she might have been.

For example, the Internet has unleashed cadres of criminals who make their living stealing our personal information and our online credentials in an effort to defraud us. Sure, criminals, including bank robbers have been around for centuries, but they were not able to rob banks from across the ocean and they weren’t able to empty people’s accounts simply by pressing a few keys. Knowing how to create and use strong passwords, to use security tools and configure devices for maximum protection is not something any of us learned in elementary school. And they’re not skills we would need if we weren’t digitally connected These are specialized skills that we need to go online and use mobile devices and they are part of what I call “online safety.” Banks too have to learn to new ways to protect themselves. Strong safes and armed guards, though not perfect, worked reasonably well when Jesse James was alive, but they’re useless against cyberthieves.

New privacy threats

All generations have had privacy threats but never before has it been possible to sift through thousands of personal messages, follow someone’s every move or track their location without having to dispatch a spy to literally follow them around. Even tapping a phone, in the landline days, required sending someone over to a house to attach alligator clips to the line or getting a court order to get the phone company to set up a tap. Now it’s possible to do it remotely just by installing malware on someone’s smartphone. Knowing how to use anti-tracking tools, to configure your privacy settings on apps and sites and to understand encryption is not something they taught in one-room school houses – it’s part of what we need to learn as digital citizens and very different from what our grandparents needed to know.

Bullying and sexting

And while I agree that cyberbullying is just bullying online, it does add some dimensions, such as the ability to stick around forever or involve far more people than are likely to witness a schoolyard brawl. I’m not saying it’s worse than physical bullying – it probably isn’t – and I know it’s less prevalent, but it’s nonetheless different.

There same arguments can be made about sexting – its been around since at least the invention of the Polaroid camera, but the ability to distribute images online to hundreds of people at a time is something our grandparents never had to worry about. The same is true with other reputation busters. When I was in college it was common to drink beer in the dorm room, but we never had to worry about the administration or our parents seeing pictures of it on Facebook.

There is also disinhibition, which can allow people to forget they’re interacting with real people. Just as being surrounded by thousands of pounds of metal can make a mild-mannered motorist into an angry driver, interacting with people through screens instead of in-person can have an impact on how you treat them. It shouldn’t, but it can.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. Yes, the net is part of life and yes many people, including most young people (and plenty of adults, myself included) are so engaged in technology that it’s often difficult to distinguish between online and offline life. But that doesn’t change the fact that what happens online can have different characteristics than analogous things that happen in the so called “real world.”

Why we need online safety

There are plenty of analogies to demonstrate why there needs to continue to be a focus on “online” safety vs. just safety:

  • When you go to the beach or a pool, you need to be careful not to drown or get sunburned, but when you walk in the woods, you have a totally different set of risks. Both are “life,” but if I were preparing my daughter for a beach trip, I would give her very different advice than I would if she were headed to the mountains.
  • Sports teach a lot of life skills, but if you’re a little league baseball coach, you need to warn your kids to beware of being hit by a ball or a flying bat. High school football coaches have to warn how to make sure you’re not injured when being tackled. The risks are simply different as are the things you do and equipment you use to minimize those risks.
  • Cars are part of life and safe driving does involve the same type of good judgement that will keep you safe in other activities, but no-one would disagree that you need special skills to safely drive a vehicle.

Online safety shouldn’t be taught in a vacuum

Having said this, I agree that online safety isn’t a stand-alone subject. When we learned to write, we didn’t take a course in pencil safety but our teacher might have warned us to be aware that you can hurt yourself with a pencil. Cooking classes focus on how to make great food but – at some point in our lives – we did learn that knives can be dangerous. We learn to drive so we can get from place to place and enjoy the ride but, along the way, we learned auto safety. It wasn’t a special class – it was part of driver’s education.

Online safety too needs to be integrated into all subjects. There is no special expertise when it comes to being safe online, but its something we learn as we leran to use technology to enhance our lives.

So, yes, it is about “life,” but it’s also a unique set of skills that we need to live our lives in the 21st century.



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Survey finds parents mostly OK with kids’ use of tech

A survey released today by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), found that “93% of parents feel that their child is at least somewhat safe when he or she is online,” while only 37% say their child is “very safe.”

The survey found some ambivalence when it comes to using smartphone apps and playing online games where 38% felt that the benefits outweigh harms.

The study, Parenting in the Digital Age, which was conducted for FOSI by Hart Research, is based on an October, 2014 national survey of 584 parents of children age six to 17 who access the Internet.

Concern over social media

When it comes to social media, only 26% feel that the benefits of their child having a social media account outweighs harms, while 43% say “harms outweigh benefits”and 31% say that they’re about equal.

I find this number interesting considering the number of children who have Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Maybe things have changed since danah boyd and other researchers released a 2011 study that found that of the estimated 7.5 million kids under 13 on Facebook (according to Consumer Reports), 95% of the parents whose 10-year-old was on Facebook knew about it and 78% actually helped the kid sign-up. Of course, Facebook use by kids may be diminishing, but there are plenty of social media apps and services, including Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), Snapchat, Tumblr and Yik-Yak that are popular among teens as well as pre-teens who, according to most services’ rules, are not supposed to be using them.
Parents feel they have control

Whether it’s true or not, parents do feel that they have some control over their kids’ use of tech. Just under two-thirds (64%) said that they are confident in their ability to keep track of their child’s technology use, but for parents of teens, the number drops to 58%. Nearly three quarters (73%) of parents with younger children feel OK about their ability to keep track of what their kids are doing with technology.

Nearly all (95%) of parents say they “monitor” their child’s use of technology at least “somewhat closely,” while 55% say they monitor it very closely. That number drops to 41% for parents of teens, while 68% of parents of kids between 6 and 9 say they monitor tech use very closely. Of course “monitor” is a very broad term that can range from tight controls to an occasional check-in. A slim majority (53%) of parents say they have used parental controls such as online filters while 47% report using controls to turn off in-app purchases. The use of the term “have,” though is also a bit vague. It’s not clear from the survey whether these numbers represent ongoing monitoring or, perhaps, the use of a filter sometime in the past.

In an open-ended part of the survey, parents were asked to express their concerns and a significant percentage (28%) worried about “stalkers, child molesters, predators, bad people lurking online” or “contact with strangers.” Inappropriate content was also high on the list of concerns with 23% expressing worry about the child accessing content that isn’t age appropriate. Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) expressed concerns about tech keeping their kids away from exercise while 8% mentioned cyberbullying.

Perception vs. reality

The concern over stranger danger is interesting given that the actual risk (as opposed to perceived) of a child being harm by a stranger they meet online is very low. I also found it interesting that only 8% of parents expressed concerns about cyberbullying given the amount of attention it has received, though based on the actual (vs. perceived) occurrences of cyberbullying, the number is about right.

With any survey on risks and harms it’s always important to remember that people don’t necessarily perceive risk accurately. It’s not uncommon, for example, for surveys to find concern over a growth in crimes during a period when crime rates are dropping or concern over economic decline during periods when the economy is actually growing.

So, the takeaway here is to understand parental concerns, but also understand actual risks as measured by data from organizations like the Crimes Against Children Research Department, the Centers for Disease Control, the Justice Department and others who keep up-to-date records on risks and harms.

On the positive side, it’s great to see that parents are in-touch with their kids’ use of technology and, for the most part, agree with the characters played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in the movie “The Kids Are All Right.”

This post first appeared on

Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook and other social media companies

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