Facebook Lets Teens Post Publicly: Why That’s a Good Thing

Facebook announced today that it’s changing its policy to allow teens to post publicly. Prior to today, Facebook members aged 13 through 17 were only allowed to post to a limited audience that max out with friends of friends.

In a blog post, Facebook said that teens will also “be able to turn on Follow so that their public posts can be seen in people’s News Feeds” As is the case now, followers can only see posts that they’ve been authorized to see.

There will be some who will no doubt question Facebook’s wisdom and motives for allowing teens to share publicly. But I for one am all for it. My reason is simple. Teens deserve the same free speech rights as adults and many teens want to be able to speak out on issues that are important to them.

Free speech and youth activism

One need only look at the work of Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head for speaking in favor of the rights of women and girls. She was able to speak directly on this subject, to blog about it, to be interviewed and to make media appearances but – based on the rules that were in place until today, she wouldn’t have been allowed to post about it on Facebook.

Although the First Amendment applies to government, not the private sector, there is nothing in it that says that freedom of speech is only a right for people over a specific age.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which is law for most countries served by Facebook) is even more explicit. “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include 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.”

“Any other media” clearly includes social media such as Facebook and any arbitrary rules preventing teens from expressing themselves or accessing information expressed by others certainly violates the spirit that convention.

But forget rights for a moment and just focus on dignity. We are trying to teach our children to be good citizens and that includes speaking out on issues that concern them. Whether it’s the treatment of women and girls, the environment, the economy, issues of war and peace or even their thoughts on sports teams or their favorite foods, young people not only have a right to express themselves but, by doing so, they are helping our democracy by engaging in dialog about issues.

Proud parents

The notion that teens shouldn’t be allowed to share publicly is actually something that we’ve mostly been talking about in the age of social media. When I was a kid, my parents were happy when the local paper wrote a story about how I had done something laudable. My own son Will Magid, now a professional musician, performed publicly when he was in high school. Based on the old rules, he couldn’t have used Facebook to post his recordings or videos of his performances to share with the same people who might have been in the auditorium when he performed. Of course there are things teens shouldn’t post publicly on Facebook just as there are things they shouldn’t say to strangers on the street. The good news — based on recent surveys – is that most teens know this.

As a private company Facebook doesn’t have to give teens the right to speak in public but as a forum that has more members than the population of any country besides China and India, it has a moral obligation to allow unfettered speech to all of its members.

Right to privacy and free speech

Having said that, Facebook also has a responsibility to protect the privacy of teens and everyone else, which is why it’s important that teens be made aware that they have control over who sees each of their posts. By default new teen accounts will default to friends only (it used to be friends of friends) but now they can expand or narrow that audience. Both teens and adults need to be aware that if you post publicly, subsequent posts will also be public until you again change the audience. I wish there was the option to have the audience settings automatically revert back to the user’s preferred default so that if you usually post privately and decide to post publicly, the next time it would revert back to private.

Parents, privacy advocates, teachers and anyone else who interacts with teens should do all they can to make sure that young people understand how to use Facebook’s privacy tools and remember that there are consequences to what you post – in some cases even if it’s only shared among your friends

But there are also consequences to keeping people – of any age – from being able to express themselves and I for one am glad that Facebook has finally unshackled its teenage users.

Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook


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Let’s not underestimate the impact of cyberbullying

New guide from ConnectSafely helps parents deal with cyberbullying

New guide from ConnectSafely helps parents deal with cyberbullying

For advice on how to deal with cyberbullying, check out ConnectSafely.org’s new free online booklet, A Parents’ Guide to Cyberbullying

I’ve written several columns about how people tend to exaggerate the number of kids who are affected by cyberbullying, but just because I’m a stickler on wanting to report accurate numbers from credible sources doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s a very serious problem.

If you or someone you care about has been cyberbullied, bullied in-person or both, it doesn’t matter whether you’re part of an “epidemic” — as some people claim — or if you’re in a minority, any more than it matters to cancer patients how common their condition might be. What you want is for the pain to stop. And if you’re a parent or a kid who is worried about being bullied — again — the numbers don’t matter as much as getting some good advice on how to keep bullying out of your life.

Having said this, I still think it’s wrong and potentially even dangerous to exaggerate the problem as I’ll describe later, but — in the meantime — know that bullying, at least for some kids, can be extremely distressing.

Tragic outcomes

There have been lots of news stories about really bad outcomes from cyberbulling ranging from severe depression to the unthinkable — a child taking his or her life. To someone affected by a situation like this, it doesn’t matter that such incredibly horrible outcomes are rare, nor does it matter that some experts have written that bullying alone doesn’t cause suicide. That may be true and, as co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center Justin Patchin wrote, “Most people who have spent some time exploring the connection understand that, like any association in the social sciences, it is often much more complicated than simply X causes Y.” But, as Patchin went on to say, “I think it is just as important to remember that, as inappropriate as it is to assert that ‘bullying causes suicide,’ it is perhaps equally incorrect to say that ‘bullying does not cause suicide.’”

We also know that the vast majority of youth who are bullied don’t commit suicide or necessarily even think about it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t distressing.

Support our children

What does matter is that we support all of our children by working to prevent bullying and finding sensible and effective ways for dealing with it when it occurs. Sometimes that means letting kids handle it on their own or among their peers, sometimes it means adult intervention. What doesn’t help are knee-jerk reactions that can sometimes make the problem worse. Even well meaning “zero tolerance policies,” can sometimes backfire by treating every incidence of alleged bullying as if it were a very big deal. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

As when talking about supporting kids — don’t just focus on what some call “peer victimization.” It’s not uncommon for kids to be bullied by adults and there are plenty of other issues facing youth including neglect, obesity and the affects of poverty.

Bullying defined

It’s also helpful to understand the definition of bullying. Olwues Bullying Prevention says that “Cyber bullying, like traditional bullying, involves an imbalance of power, aggression, and a negative action that is often repeated.” The U.S. government’s StopBullying.gov website’s definition is almost identical. Most experts agree that a single mean, rude or insensitive comment in an email or on a social networking site — however hurtful it might be — doesn’t, by itself, constitute bullying.

Why exaggerating the numbers is bad

I’ve heard from some people that my complaints about exaggerating the bullying numbers somehow minimizes and therefore makes the problem worse, but I think the opposite is true. As I pointed out in my post Social norms research: Exaggerating bullying could increase bullying, putting the bullying problem into its proper perspective doesn’t minimize it and actually helps prevent it from getting worse. There is a lot of solid research that shows that if people overestimate anti-social or harmful behavior, they are more likely to engage in it themselves. In other words, reporting accurately about the rate of bullying actually makes kids less likely to bully others.

For evidence, I turn to the the research of H. Wesley Perkins, David W. Craig and Jessica M. Perkins who published a paper (PDF) in the April, 2011 edition of Group Processes Intergroup Relations, that shows that “variation in perceptions of the peer norm for bullying was significantly associated with personal bullying perpetration and attitudes.” As the authors pointed out, “decades of research in social psychology … have demonstrated the strong tendency of people to conform to peer norms.” If people think the “norm” is to bully, they’re more likely to bully but if they know that most of their peers don’t bully, they’re less likely to bully others. This, by the way, is consistent with other research on harmful or anti-social behavior including smoking and excessive drinking.

Numbers vary

The actual numbers on bullying and cyberbullying are all over the map, partially because not everyone defines it the same way. Here’s a link to some of the credible research that’s out there. But — once again — I want to emphasize that numbers don’t tell the whole story. Each child is different and each child is precious and — at the risk of repeating an oft-used phrase, “even one case is one too many.”




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Google May Feature You In An Ad With ‘Shared Endorsements’ (Unless You Opt-Out)

Read the full post on Forbes.com

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Facebook to no longer let you opt-out of being found via search

Click for Larry Magid’s 1-minute CBS News & CNET segment about Facebook dropping the search setting

Facebook has eliminated a setting called  “Who can look up your Timeline by name?,” which controlled whether you could be found when people typed your name into the Facebook search bar.

In a blog post, Facebook’s chief privacy officer Michael Richter said that the  setting was “created when Facebook was a simple directory of profiles and it was very limited.”  The feature also created a false sense of security because it gave some people the sense that they were hiding  just because they couldn’t be found in search. Not true. There are many ways that people can find you on Facebook including links from other people’s profiles.

If you block someone, they can’t find you via search or any other way on the service.

Protecting what you post

You can control the audience for each post

You can control the audience for each post

While it may be hard to hide on Facebook, you can protect the privacy of your content.  Every time you post you have the option to determine the audience. It can be everyone (Public), Friends, Friends of Friends or limited to a smaller group of people or even “just me.”

For more, here is Facebook’s privacy settings help page

Read more  on CNET News.com

Facebook’s blog post about the change

Disclosure: Facebook provides financial support to ConnectSafely and co-directors Larry Magid and Anne Collier serve on Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board.

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Parents can help prevent cyberbullying


Free booklet advises parents on how to deal with Cyberbullying

While bullying has been around forever, there was no such thing as cyberbullying until about 20 years ago when people discovered the ability to use technology to display their mean, cruel, annoying and generally negative side. And since the late 1990s we’ve seen lots of stories about the “epidemic” of cyberbullying among young people. But as my ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier and I explain in our new booklet, A Parents’ Guide to Cyberbullying, it’s a serious problem that deserves our attention but it’s far from an epidemic and not just limited to young people.

For the most part, cyberbullying is pretty similar to in-person bullying, but there are some differences between in-person and online communications that can change (not necessarily worsen) its nature and impact. As bullying expert Elizabeth Englander pointed out in a recent post on Harvard Education Letter, communicating online takes on different dimensions from in-person relationships including the fact that “Talking digitally can make you feel uninhibited and lead you to say things you might not say anywhere else” and “Texting or posting back and forth about a feeling can cause that feeling to escalate and can make the situation worse.”

Other differences between in-person and online is that a negative online comment can stick around for a long time and be seen by a lot of people. And, unlike a physical confrontation or verbal abuse at school, bullying via text message, email or social networking can follow children home and haunt them after school on weekends and during school breaks. Depending a lot on individual factors including the nature of the incident and the child’s resilience and psychological state-of-mind, the impact of cyberbullying can range from mildly annoying to devastating. It’s impossible to generalize and — even when something tragic follows an episode of cyberbullying, it’s not always possible to assign a single cause for what happened.

Not all unpleasant online interactions are cyberbulling

Having an online argument isn’t necessarily cyberbullying. In fact, the U.S. government’s StopBullying.gov website’s definition of youth bullying (endorsed by most experts) is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”  A single mean, rude or insensitive comment in an email or on a social networking site — however hurtful it might be — doesn’t, by itself, constitute bullying. If it did, the cyberbullying rate among both kids and adults would probably be close to 100%.

Tips for parents and teens

ConnectSafely.org’s new cyberbullying booklet answers parents’ top five questions and provides tips for both parents and young people. Tips for parents (which are greatly expanded and explained in the guide) include:

  • Know that you’re lucky if your child asks for help
  • Respond thoughtfully, not fast
  • Kids who have been bullied need to be listened to
  • The ultimate goal is restored self-respect

Children and teens are advised to:

  • Remember that “it’s not your fault”
  • Save the evidence
  • Not respond or retaliate
  • Reach out for help
  • Use available tech tools to block he person
  • Take action if someone you know is being bullied

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

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Beware of the Internet Safety Industrial Complex

Is this the new parenting?

Is this the new parenting? Creative Commons image by Sevillana

By Larry Magid

I got a call recently from a woman who works for a company that makes an app designed to “keep kids safe” by enabling parents to monitor their texts and social media activities. The pitch included some dire statistics such as “70% of kids are cyberbullied” and — like other companies that make parental-control software — I was also told that it helps protect kids from strangers who would do them harm.

She even told me that she uses the product with her 17-year-old son so she can be his “admin,” and help him if things go wrong. I so wish I could have interviewed her son. It’s hard to image a 17 year-old boy actually wanting his mom to monitor his online activities even though this particular product — to its credit — doesn’t provide parents with a complete transcript of everything the kid does but just notifies them in the event something inappropriate appears to occur.

As pitches from parental-control companies go it was pretty mild. I’ve seen others spout frightening statistics that would scare the heck out of any parent, with phony data about online sexual predators or the looming threat of bullying and cyberbullying-induced suicide. Then there’s the sexting panic and — worse —  “sextortion” where someone threatens to send around naked pictures of your child unless he or she agrees to have sex with them.

Not just companies

And it’s not just companies. Some non-profit organizations, government agencies, politicians and police departments have also exaggerated problems, presumably to attract media attention or possibly help justify their budgets. One non-profit organization has repeatedly claimed that 85% of teens have been cyberbullied — a number that flies in the face of all reputable research reports. Be especially wary when you hear statements like “a disturbing trend” or a “growing problem” that aren’t accompanied by any research data. What many of these reports fail to say is that victimization of children has been on a steady decline for years. Problems do exist including some horrendous stories about exploited and abused children, but as David Finkelhor pointed out in The Internet, Youth Safety and the Problem of “Juvenoia, “sex crimes overall and against children have dropped dramatically in the US” during the same period that Internet use has skyrocketed.

One size doesn’t fit all

I’m not saying that there aren’t kids who might benefit from filtering or monitoring. But not all kids do. And even if you feel you do need parental-control software or service, it’s important to remember that they are never a substitute for common sense, engaged parenting and — most important — teaching kids to be respectful of others, self-protective and resilient. Eventually your kids will grow up and one of the purposes of childhood is to learn to protect yourself long after mommy and daddy and whatever tools they employ are off the job.

Fake numbers

Even though I knew it was completely false, it didn’t surprise me to hear the spokesperson for the monitoring app claim that 70% of kids had been cyberbullied. Though not all are guilty of this, it’s not uncommon to hear such exaggerations from companies (and some agencies and non-profits) in the Internet safety space.

While any case of cyberbullying is bad, the fact is that the statistics are nowhere near as dire.  The numbers vary a lot. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that 6% of students in grades 6-12 experienced cyberbullying. The Centers for Disease Control found in 2011 that 16.2% of students had been bullied via email, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites or texting — compared to 20.1% who had been bullied on school property (traditional bullying) — during the 12 months prior to the survey. The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that “on average, about 24% of the students who have been a part of our last six studies have said they have been the victim of cyberbullying at some point in their lifetime.”

Dan Olweus, who the editor of the European Journal of Development Psychology referred to as the “father of bullying research” wrote a 2012 article for that journal where he said that “claims about cyberbullying made in the media and elsewhere are greatly exaggerated and have little empirical scientific support.” Based on a three-year survey of more than 440,000 U.S. children (between 3rd and 12th grade), 4.5% of kids had been cyberbullied compared to 17.6% from that same sample who had experienced traditional bullying.  An even more interesting statistic from that study is that only 2.8% of kids had bullied others.

Not all risk is created equal

Most experts agree with Olweus who defines bullying as “aggressive behavior that is intentional and that invoices an imbalance of power. Most often, it is repeated over time.” But clearly there are a range of behaviors that affect child ranging from mildly annoying to extremely severe. However we label them, we need to avoid assuming that every rude or mean act is extremely harmful.

There have also been a lot of false reports about the incidences of kids being sexually solicited online. During that recent pitch about the monitoring app, I was told that the woman’s own son encountered creeps online but — when I asked what happened — she said that he ignored them. It turns out that’s common. Unless kids are looking to hook up with strangers online, that’s exactly what most teens do. Parents can freak out all they want, but kids generally know how to avoid getting entangled in unwanted online relationships. And those few who do become victims typically meet the offender “expecting to engage in sexual activity,” according to a paper from the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CRCC).

The problem — as articulated by researchers — is that some kids take extraordinary risks and the kids who take risks online are the same ones that make bad decisions in their offline lives. As the Internet Safety Technical Task Force concluded, “Minors are not equally at risk online. Those who are most at risk often engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives. The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.”

Whatever the numbers are, they’re still too high but they represent a small minority of kids which is why a one-size-fits-all approach, including monitoring and filtering, doesn’t make sense. If we’re going to serve the population that is at risk, we need to develop programs that provide serious intervention. An Internet filter or monitoring program could be part of the solution, but it’s only a small part.

Why this matters

There are a lot of reasons why exaggerating is bad. For one thing, it causes parents to worry unnecessarily. Of course parents are concerned about their kids use of online technology but focusing on the technology — instead of the child’s social emotional state — is likely to divert their attention from real issues. And, as Olweus pointed out in this paper, “It may also create feelings of powerlessness and helplessness in the face of the presumably ‘huge’ and ubiquitous cyberbullying problem.” Olweus is also concerned that fixating on cyberbullying could encourage “an unfortunate shift in the focus of anti-bullying work if digital bullying is seen as the key bullying problem in the schools.” He worries about funneling resources in the wrong direction, while “traditional bullying — which is clearly the most prevalent and most serious problem – would be correspondingly downgraded.”

I worry about something else. One of the best ways to counter negative behavior is to show that it’s not the norm. Exaggerating cyberbullying makes it look common — in some cases we’ve seen numbers that make it look as if the majority of kids are engaged in it. If it’s common it must be normal and if it’s normal — so goes the reasoning — it must be OK. Well, it’s not common, it’s not normal and it’s definitely not OK. Norms research from Professors H. Wesley Perkins and David Craig has shown that emphasizing that most kids don’t bully actually decreases bullying.

For more, scroll down to view the slide presentation, “Do fear and exaggeration increase risk?”

Monitor the monitors

So, the next time someone tries to sell you software or a service to control or monitor your kids, ask yourself whether you really need it and if your kid will benefit from its use. If your kids are like most, chances are you won’t need it. But even if you do, use it with caution. Ultimately the best control mechanism are the ones that your child has internalized. And, since most of us live long past our 18th birthday, what’s important isn’t just how you’re able to control your kid as a child but how your child grows up to protect him or herself.  And the last time I checked, teaching self-respect, empathy, kindness, reslience and self-control was way beyond the scope of any of these products.

Roosevelt and Eisenhower said it well

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

In his famous 1960 speech, three days before leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans to beware of the military industrial complex. Although he was talking about armaments — not parental-control software — he nonetheless left us with a sobering yet optimistic thought. “Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”


Franklin Delano Roosevelt

And of course who can forget Franklin Roosevelt’s words, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

It’s time for us to put aside the fear, respect our youth and model the types of behaviors that will help them learn to respect themselves and others.

Slideshow: Do fear and exaggeration increase risk?


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Author behind ‘Mean Girls’ focuses on ‘boy world’ (podcast)

by Larry Magid
This post first appeared on CNET News.com


Author Rosalind Wiseman
(Credit: Greg Powers and Audrey Crew

Rosalind Wiseman is known for writing “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” a book about teenage girls that was the basis for the movie “Mean Girls.” But now she’s focused on boys. Her new book, “Masterminds and Wingman,” is something of a user manual for parents of boys, with insight into how they think, how they interact with each other, and how technology — including social networking and gaming — helps shape their lives for better and worse.

Wiseman’s new book is about boys and parenting, not technology. But it wouldn’t be possible to write a parenting book in 2013 without focusing on the tech that kids use. On social networking, Wiseman cited the work of researcher danah boyd by pointing out that people do care about their privacy and want the ability to control who can see what they post, but they want “to participate in a public place that’s meaningful to them and their peers.” Wiseman asks us to “imagine living in a city where there are a lot of parks, and you know that one of the parks is the place where all your friends hang out. You want to be able to go there and be a part of that community, and you would want to have the ability to present yourself and participate in that community as you like.” Our kids’ social networks are those parks.

Wiseman also wrote a free ebook for boys called The Guide: Managing Douchebags, Recruiting Wingmen. and Attracting Who You Want.

coverIn our interview (scroll down to listen), Wiseman said that “social norming that is going on with boys doesn’t start with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. (Click here for parent guides to these services.) “It starts when they start doing things like Xbox Live. As soon as they start to interact with people socially while they play the game they are literally learning the social rules on how to conduct themselves.” When I argued that some researchers say that violence and language in games has little or no impact on kids’ behavior in the real world, she responded, “Many parents don’t want their children to be constantly around other people who are using racial epithets, homophobic epithets, and really disrespectful words against women.”

“Masterminds and Wingmen” is about all aspects of the “boy world,” including how they interact with their parents and peers. It’s about technology, bullying, and cyberbullying, and it’s about the pecking order that boys are part of.

Regardless of whether you read the book, click below and listen to our 15-minute interview for some insightful comments by Wiseman.

Click image to listen to podcast

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ADL and Facebook sponsor panel on free speech, civility and the challenge of cyberhate

Facebook on Wednesday hosted an  Anti-Defamation League program on “Free Speech, Civility and the Challenge of Cyberhate” to  address the issue of hate online hate speech. The panel was moderated by ADL Civil Rights Director Deborah Lauter and included privacy and Internet law expert Christopher Wolf, Susan Benesch, Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, and Monika Bickert.

What follows is Larry’s 1-minute CBS News radio segment about it the panel, which includes a sound bite from Facebook’s Monica Vikert, and a link to the one-hour video playback of the event and

Larry’s 1 minute CBS News segment on Facebook cyberhate event

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Free Speech, Civility and the Challenge of Cyberhate

Click here to watch the video of the panel


Controversial, Harmful and Hateful Speech on Facebook

What does Facebook consider to be hate speech?

Content that attacks people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease is not allowed. We do, however, allow clear attempts at humor or satire that might otherwise be considered a possible threat or attack. This includes content that many people may find to be in bad taste (ex: jokes, stand-up comedy, popular song lyrics, etc.).

Facebook community standards

Under pressure, Facebook targets sexist hate speech (CNN.com)

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Most Online Adults Know They’re Not Anonymous But Take Steps To Protect Privacy

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found at the more than a fifth (21%) of adults have had an email or social media account hijacked and more than a tenth (11%) have had information important information stolen, such as a social security number, credit card or bank account numbers.

The report, Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online, is based on a sample of 1,002 adults interviewed by telephone in July, 2013. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4%

Although 59% of those surveyed said that they don’t believe that it’s possible to be completely anonymous online, most people are taking at least some steps to protect their privacy. For example, 86% of Internet users have taken steps to remove or mask their digital footprints, “ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their email,from avoiding using their name to using virtual networks that mask their internet protocol (IP) address.” More than half (55%) have done something to “avoid observation” by specific people, organizations or the government.

Stronger laws

The survey found that 68% of Americans feel current laws :are not good enough in protecting people’s privacy online” while only 24% believe current laws provide reasonable protections. The Obama administration  has proposed an online privacy bill of rights but, so far, Congress hasn’t acted on it.

Key findings

  • 21%  of internet users have had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over by someone else without permission.
  • 3% have experienced trouble in a relationship between them and a family member or a friend because of something the user posted online.
  • 12% have been stalked or harassed online.
  • 11% have had important personal information stolen such as their Social Security Number, credit card, or bank account information.
  • 6%  have been the victim of an online scam and lost money.
  • 6% have had their reputation damaged because of something that happened online.
  • 4%  have been led into physical danger because of something that happened online.
  • 1%  have lost a job opportunity or educational opportunity because of something they posted online or someone posted about them.

Getting along. And not

I find bullet point #2 (trouble in a relationship based on posting) to be particularly interesting in light of all the talk about youth bullying.  This is a survey of adults who — like teens and kids — use the Internet to socialize and interact with family and friends and — like all other forms of interaction — there are bound to be some touchy moments. Still, 3% is a fairly low percentage considering that it’s pretty common for people to have “trouble in a relationship” in the offline world.

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Hands-on with Samsung smartwatch — is it coming to a kid near you?

Are your kids about to get a smartwatch?  Probably not if they have their heart set on the new Samsung Galaxy Gear watch that was unveiled this week.  It costs a whopping $299 and it only works with a single phone — the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.  But, as a category, it could catch on with kids if the price drops to below $100.  If it does, it will be the first time in awhile that people under 20 want to wear watches. Traditional watches are  practically an endangered species thanks to phones telling time.

Fear mongering sure to follow

But, if kids do adopt to this technology, expect lots of interesting apps and a bit of parental consternation and media fear-mongering over what might go wrong.  Clearly, the watches will be used for geolocation (ConnectSafely.org partner Glympse has already announced a location tracking app for the Samsung watch) but kids will also be able to use it to keep in touch with each other, perhaps through texting.  And the Samsung watch has a camera which means photo taking is more convenient and more but potentially more secretive. Having said that, if smartwatches do catch on with kids, I’m quite confident that smart kids will use smartwatches smartly, as most do with phones and computers. 

What follows is my first-look as published on Forbes.com

Samsung took the wraps off its Galaxy Gears smartwatch ahead of the IFA trade show in Berlin today, along with a new Galaxy 3 smartphone and a new Galaxy 10.1 tablet.

The phone and tablet have some interesting new features, but the buzz is all about the new watch.  The day before the announcement Samsung invited journalists for a sneak-peak and a little hands-on time. Clearly, a few minutes with a pre-release product is not equivalent to a full review, but it did give me a sense of how the product works and why some people would — or wouldn’t — want to own one.

And before you get too excited about the watch, know that it’s an accessory to Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 3.  It’s not a stand-alone device nor does it work with other smartphones or tablets, at least not yet.  A Samsung spokesperson said it will likely work with other Galaxy phones at some point, but not on day one.  So, if you’re thinking of getting “Galaxy Gear,” as they call it,  you’ll also need to buy a new Note 3.

At 1.44 by 2.2 by .44 inches, weighing 2.6 ounces (1.6 inch diagonal screen), it’s not the most demure watch on the planet but it is about as stylish as you can get for a watch with a glass and metal case and a plastic band.  The band comes in six colors: Jet Black, Mocha Gray, Wild Orange, Oatmeal Beige, Rose Gold and Lime Green.

Although the watch has some stand-alone features (time, pedometer and other downloadable apps), it’s mostly used as a companion to the soon-to-be-released Note 3 phone.  When paired to the phone via Bluetooth, you can use it as a speaker phone (there are two microphones for noise cancelation and a speaker on the band). Voice commands allow you to use it hands-free such as when you’re driving or carrying groceries with both hands. There is also a mini-phone dialer that you can tap with your fingers.  On my one test call, sound quality for both sides of the call was pretty good.  Not quite as good as if you’re talking directly on the phone, but very close.

Galaxy Gear is expected to be available in the United States in October for $299.

The watch’s 1.9 megapixel still and video camera is pretty low resolution by today’s standards, but is convenient to snap a picture just by pressing an icon on the screen  The lens is on the side of the band so you can take a picture while you hold up your hand, as if you were checking the time. Unlike Google Glass, the watch doesn’t light up while you’re taking a picture, which could become a privacy issue.  Pictures can be viewed on the watch but are also transferred to the phone. The watch also has a voice recorder.


Mini dialer or voice commands let you make calls from Galaxy Gear

The watch can also be used to read emails and text messages and control music on the phone. The user interface consists of a home button and gestures like double tapping and swiping to bring up menus and swiping across the screen to go from one app to another.  On the pre-release device I tested, the gestures weren’t as responsive as I would hope for, but perhaps that will improve with the final product as well as time getting used to it.


A number of apps, including Glympse location tracker and RunKeeper fitness tracker will be available at or near launch. Other third party apps include Evernote, Path, Banjo, eBay and Pocket (a way to save web content to view later on any device).  See the chart on the next page for additional apps.

Battery and charging

As you might expect from a device with a radio, a processor, a camera and a bright screen, battery life will be limited.  A Samsung executive told me that users will likely get about a day’s worth of use on a charge, depending on how much they use it and what they do with it.  There is no direct port to plug in a charger but the watch comes with an optional dock that connects to a standard Micro USB charging cord.  The charger is small and stylish but it is one more thing to carry.  Personally, the battery issue is probably my biggest single problem with this and other smartwatches.  It’s one more thing to have to remember to charge up everyday and its charger is one more thing to have to take with you when traveling.

General impressions

As I said, a few minutes of hands-on is no substitute for a full review, but based on what I saw, it appears as if Samsung did a good job in creating a reasonably stylish smartwatch at a size and weight that will be palatable to many users.

My general thought about this and other smartwatches is that — while a nice accessory — it’s not yet a game changer. Based on the bundled apps, the watch doesn’t do anything that your phone doesn’t already do, so it’s main value as a phone accessory is allowing you to read your messages, snap photos or take calls without having to reach into your pocket to pull out your phone.  As with all devices that run apps, the real value of the phone will be in what the apps bring to the party and, frankly, I’m just as excited about the pedometer and promise of other standalone apps as I am in how the watch acts as a remote control and screen for a smartphone. I’m also anxious to see what enterprise and professional apps emerge. I can imagine this watch coming in handy for medical professionals, repair people and others who need information while using both hands for their work.

The hassle of having to charge it daily dims my enthusiasm.  I also question whether this or any other smartwatch solves a big enough problem to be universally compelling. After all, it’s not all that hard to take your phone out of your pocket. But I’m not passing judgement quite yet because I’d like to see how well the watch does in real-world tests and how useful it is when I have the chance to live with it for a few weeks.

What I can say is that I’m glad that Samsung was willing to take a chance.  Not all innovations succeed in the marketplace but they do advance the bar and often lead to better ideas down the road.

GALAXY Gear Product Specifications (from Samsung)


Bluetooth®v 4.0 + BLE


 800 MHz processor


1.63 inch (41.4mm) Super AMOLED (320 x 320)


1.9 Megapixel BSI Sensor, Auto Focus Camera / Sound & Shot


Codec: H.264Format: MP4HD(720p) Playback & Recording


Codec: AACFormat : M4A

Featured Apps

Atooma is a contextually aware horizontal intelligence platform that makes your GALAXY Gear smarter.Banjo gives you the power to see what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.Evernote watch app makes it easy to remember things by quickly capturing images and memories and bringing important reminders right to GALAXY Gear.Glympse allows people to easily share their location temporarily and in real-time, letting recipients see their movements on a dynamic map.eBay app allows you to complete all your transactions on eBay with ease and in real-time.Line is a global messaging service available in over 230 countries worldwide.

MyFitnessPal tracks your nutrition and exercise, empowering you to achieve your  personal health and fitness goals.

Path is the personal network designed to bring you closer to your friends and family.

Pocket, the leading way to save web content to view later on any device, brings text-to-speech article playback to GALAXY Gear.

RunKeeper is the personal trainer in your pocket, helping you track your runs, set your goals, and stay motivated

TripIt from Concur makes it easy to organize travel plans in one place.

Vivino Wine Scanner allows you to take a photo of any wine and get to know all about it instantly.

Samsung Services

Samsung AppsChatON: mobile communication service


Smart Relay, S Voice, Memographer, Voice MemoAuto Lock, Find My Device, Media Controller, Pedometer, Stopwatch, TimerSafety assistance: In case of emergency, press a power button 3 times continuously, and then user’s location information is transferred to the saved contacts with message.2 Microphones (Noise Cancellation), 1 Speaker


Accelerometer, Gyroscope


4GB Internal memory + 512 MB (RAM)


36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1 mm, 73.8g


Standard battery, Li-ion 315mAh

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