Experts say UK’s optional filtering equals choice, not censorship

Internet Matters website part of educational campaign that accompanies optional UK filter

Internet Matters website is part of educational campaign that accompanies optional UK filtering

Under pressure from Prime Minister David Cameron and other British officials, major UK Internet service providers are now requiring customers to opt-in or out of Internet filters that affect every device in the home. And, starting this week, most public Wi-Fi networks in the UK will have porn filters so kids can’t get around parental protections when away from home and adults can’t access porn with their coffee at public places.

In the mean time, the UK’s four major ISPs — BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin — have invested millions in an educational campaign centered around a new website called Internet Matters. 

The opt-in filtering policy requires broadband customers to make a choice as to whether they want filtering for all devices connected to the home router. The actual details depend on the ISP—each has its own implementation. But if a customer opts-in, it will affect all devices, which means that if you set your filters for content suitable for young children, everyone in the household, including older teens and adults, will have the same filter, unless it is turned off by the adult in charge.

Writing in the Guardian, Laurie Penny, who describes herself as a journalist and feminist activist, argues that “In the name of protecting children from a rotten tide of raunchy videos, a terrifying precedent is being set for state control of the digital commons.”

But even though the Prime Minister was pushing for these controls, it’s not in fact state control and unlike the filters that are in place in countries like Turkey, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia as well as “the great fire-wall of China,” UK filters are not mandatory. ISP customers have a choice as to whether to use the filters and three of the UK’s leading Internet safety advocates – all of whom I work with closely and know to be sensitive to issues of free speech – feel that it’s not censorship, but a way to give parents more control over the content that comes into their home.


Childnet International’s Will Gardner

“I don’t think it’s censorship,” said Will Gardner, head of Childnet International, a London-based non-profit that delivers technology educational programs throughout the UK. “It’s a really good approach because they’re giving people a choice,” he added. “Nobody is saying that every house needs a filter, but people need to think about what is going to work best for their situation.”

UK government advisor, John Carr

UK government advisor John Carr

John Carr, an Internet safety advisor to the UK government, calls charges of censorship “a ridiculous idea.” He points out that “Everything that is accessible on the Internet today remains accessible tomorrow. Nobody is deleting, removing or altering anything. People are simply being asked to say whether or not they want to use the filters they are being offered by their ISP. They can say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Not a big deal.”


Dave Miles – heads FOSI in Europe & Middle East

David Miles, the director for Europe, Middle East & Africa for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), is cautiously optimistic that the implementation of the new whole-home filtering solutions will give parents the choice and the tools they need to control the content that is coming into their homes. “The filtering is predominantly applied to content that is inappropriate to minors, so concerns of censorship are somewhat of an overreaction in my view,” he said.

Of course there is nothing new about filtering. Parents in the U.S., UK and other countries have long had the ability to install filters on home PCs using software that they could purchase or download for free from companies including Microsoft, Symantec and many Internet service providers.

But a big difference with the UK approach is that it affects the entire home Internet connection, which means the setting will affect all wired and wireless devices connected to the home router including PCs, game consoles, tablets and even WiFi connects phones. Mobile devices connected to the cellular network are not affected but UK cellular companies already content by default with the option to opt-out.

The obvious problem with the UK approach is that it’s one-size-fits-all so a household of adults, teens and young children would have a single setting – likely to protect the youngest children – that will affect all users.

“It would be much better if every family member had their own individual log in with an associated age-appropriate profile,” said Carr, who told me that he repeatedly said that to the ISPs but they were “not prepared to go down that route.”

But, said Carr, allowing parents to configure multiple profiles “would have made implementation much more complex and costly.” He called the ISP’s strategy an experiment, “No one has a textbook full of tried-and-tested answers. This is innovation, something the hi-tech industries are meant to be good at.”

Miles agrees. “I think the new whole-home filtering should be seen as a start point. I would suggest that parents do an audit of the number of Internet-enabled devices they have in the home.” He suggests that parents of kids of varying ages consider installing device-side filters instead of using the whole-house approach.

As Gardner pointed out, there are a “number of obstacles to traditional device filtering” including “cost, ease of use and knowing they exist.” The other problem is that there are now multiple devices in many homes including PCs, tablets, game consoles and even Wi-Fi-connected media players like the iPod Touch. Without a router-based solution, parents would have to install and configure filters on each device.

The American experience certainly validates Gardner’s observation. Parental uptake of device-side filters has always been pretty low but one notable exception was when the then-mighty AOL automatically enrolled children in a filtered “Kids only” experience based on the child’s age. Parents could opt out of filtering, but most didn’t.

Public Wi-Fi filters

Kids trying to get around parent-enforced content filtering won’t be able to do so from most public Wi-Fi hotspots now that also block sexually explicit and other inappropriate content. In addition to blocking kids’ access, these filters prevent people nearby from having to look at potentially offensive content.

Even in the U.S. there are many public Wi-Fi services that block pornography and other adult-only sites. I discovered that at a café near my home in Silicon Valley last July when I was shopping for block ice for my Fourth of July party. The only store that carries it in my area is a wine shop but when I went to their site to find their location and hours, I was blocked because the site promotes the use of alcohol. Ironically, there are plenty of nearby billboards that also promote alcohol and no filters to prevent kids from viewing them. The café’s filters also prevented me from gong to a site about “wearable technology. “

How the UK got here

Over the last few years the UK has seen some highly publicized cases of child endangerment, which, ironically, had essentially nothing to do with kids’ access to porn. Yet, the October, 2012 murder of 5-year-old April Jones, whose killer had accessed child abuse images just hours before her death, touched off a public outcry for all sorts of measures to protect kids online. Another tipping point, according to Miles, was the revelation, after the death of BBC television personality Jimmy Savile, that he had sexually abused hundreds of children over a period of decades. “The Internet had nothing to do with Savile’s crimes,” said Miles, “but caused people throughout the UK to think about sexual crimes against children and the need to do everything possible to prevent further abuse.”

It’s also true that keeping porn away from kids would not have prevented the murder of April Jones but these two cases, said Carr, contributed to a general consensus that something had to be done to protect kids in this digital age.

Prime Minister Cameron, who is a father of three children, became directly involved in pushing for a number of child protections including not just filters but also a commitment from Google and other search engines to block access to search terms likely to lead to child pornography.

Despite its similarities to the United States, the UK remains a unique situation. For one thing, said Miles, the country’s media often takes a strong advocacy position and the press has focused heavily of late on Internet crimes against children.  On the positive side, there is also widespread cooperation and conversation among stakeholders. The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), which was established in 2008, brings government, non-profits and industry together and, said Miles, “has enabled these initiatives to flourish.” Carr, Gardner and Miles are all on the UKCCIS board

Thoughts on filtering

I do think it’s a good idea for parents to have a choice about whether to use Internet filters and agree that parental control is not the same as government censorship. However, I also think it’s important for parents to think about why they are turning on a filter and — if they do, understand that it’s not a be-all solution. It’s also important to discuss critical thinking, reputation management, treatment of others and media literacy with your kids. If you use filters, think about how and when to loosen the reigns because, eventually, they’ll grow up to be adults, leave home and it will be up to them to protect themselves.  As I aruged in an earlier post, digital citizenship and media literacy beat tracking laws and monitoring

I also agree with my UK Internet safety colleagues concern about the ISP’s two sizes (On and Off) approach. The needs of a 5-year old are a lot different from a 17-year old which makes a household-wide filtering system a bit inconvenient.

We used filters for a short time when my kids were young but turned them off after my son complained that he was being blocked from some gaming and music sites. Instead we relied on family policies and an occasional parental peek into the browser history to see what was going on. I’m not claiming that my kids never saw porn – that would be highly unlikely – which is why I wrote What to do if your kids are looking at porn.

Internet matters

In addition to requiring parents to opt into or out of filters, leading British ISPs have banded together to fund a nationwide education campaign called Internet Matters. Its website has information on age-appropriate strategies and technologies but the ISPs are also committed to providing education and advocacy through other media, including advertisements. The reported budget for this program is £75 million ($127 million) but, said Carr, most of this is based on estimates of ad spending that the companies may be doing anyway. He said there are approximately £6 million ($10.2 million) of new money dedicated to the non-profit organization set up to run the program, which is still a massive investment compared to any Internet safety campaigns I’m aware of.


Posted in Child safety | Comments Off

Do kids need special protections or do we all need them?

This post is a work in progress and subject to editing and updates

by Larry Magid

We have always taken child safety more seriously than adult safety, even where children are not necessarily at greater risk than adults. It’s probably instinctual. As every parent knows, protecting one’s offspring is not something we even have to think about. We just do it.

Children not always a special case

But when it comes to risk, children are not always a special case. For example, in California it’s against the law for children under 18 to ride a bicycle without a helmet yet, every year, nearly 17,000 adults are killed or injured in bicycle accidents in the U.S., compared to about 2,200 children. More than 88% of the injured are adults even though adults make up 77% of the population, which means that people over 18 are more likely to be injured than children.  I think of this every time I ride my bike through the Stanford University campus near my home and notice all those over-18 people putting their expensively educated brains at risk by legally riding without helmets.

Bullying doesn’t just affect kids

The same can be said of other types of risks. Workplace bullying among adults is higher than school-yard bullying of kids. 2010 study commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute and conducted by Zogby International found that more than a third (35%) “have experienced bullying firsthand.” That’s higher than any of the credible studies of youth bullying. Plenty of adults are also affected by cyberbullying (adults sometimes call it “trolling”) as well.

Why are privacy laws aimed at kids

There are all sorts of existing and proposed privacy laws to “protect” children, yet there is no evidence that kids have any more privacy risks than adults. In fact, adults may have even more privacy risks given what they do online and the potential payback for being able to sell them products based on their online activities. When it comes to government surveillance, nearly all the victims are adults. And from what I’ve been able to observe in social media, adults are not typically more privacy savvy than teens when it comes to what they post. In fact, a 2013 Pew Research survey found that teens are more privacy conscious than many adults give them credit for.

Yet the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is aimed only at kids under 13 while California’s “eraser button law” affects only people under 18.

COPPA requires “verifiable parental consent” before a child under 13 can provide personally identifiable information (including IP address) to a commercial service. The well meaning law is designed to protect children’s privacy, but it’s unintended consequence is to ban children from social media sites because of the enormous cost, hassle and, ironically, privacy and security risks associated with obtaining that consent. COPPA also discriminates against children who’s parents, for a variety of reasons including limited English-language or technology skills, and fear of government are unable or unwilling to comply with COPPA.

Congrss is considering yet anothr law, The Do Not Track Kids Act (see Anne Collier’s analysis here), that assumes that young people are at a higher risk because “Children and teens lack the cognitive ability to distinguish advertising from program content and to understand that the purpose of advertising is to persuade them, making them unable to activate the defenses on which adults rely,” but that’s lumping together the age range of zero through 17. It may be true of very young children, but I haven’t seen evidence to suggest that teen Internet users fail to understand the difference between advertising and content any more than do adult users. 

Rational laws could protect everyone

To the extent that we need new laws to protect privacy, they should be aimed at everyone, regardless of age. Senior citizens need protection, young adults need protection, parents raising families need protection as do workers at every age. We all need greater transparency so that we know (and are able to understand) how our data is being used and we need laws that limit what government can collect or do with data that companies collect.

Failing to see the bigger picture

“When we think about kids online or off, we tend to automatically overestimate the dangers, because that’s all we ever see in the media, said Lenore Skanazy, author of the book and blog, Free Range Kids. What’s more she added, “we also don’t see the billions of friendly, helpful or informative chats kids have online daily — only the cyberbullying and sexting. Our fears don’t match reality.” Skanazy is observing the disproportionate amount of media attention on risk to youth.  Even the recent incidences of school violence are often interpreted out of context. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics shows a general decline in school related homicides between 1992 and 2011.  

Reflecting on the the past 20 or so years, Crimes Against Children Research Center David Finkelhor, in his paper, The Internet, Youth Safety and the Problem of “Juvenoia,” observed an overall positive trend in most youth-related risks including crime victimization, sexual assault and even bullying, causing him to conclude, “Given the convergence of positive indicators regarding children, there is a good chance that we will look back on this era as one of major and widespread amelioration in the social problems affecting children and families.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 8.30.13 AM

Homicides of youths ages 5-18 at U.S. schools, by school year, from the annual report “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2012,” by the Bureau of Justice Statistics


Children and teens need respect as well as protection

Of course, adults want to keep children safe. But it’s also important to respect them and their rights and to be very thoughtful before using “protection” as an excuse to limit their rights and privileges. Plus, we need to remember that with kids as with adults, one size doesn’t fit all. What’s suitable for a young child may not be suitable for a teen and, even within the same age groups, not all kids are equal when it comes to risk.

Ironically, the adult fear (often irrational) of teen use of social media is, according to author danah boyd, related to our clamping down on their freedoms in the physical world because of parental fears. In her book,  It’s Complicated, boyd suggests that “teens simply have fewer places to be together in public than they once did,” which is one of the reasons they flock to social media.

It’s also important to remember that risk is a necessary component of life and an important part of growth and learning for both children and adults. Josie Gleave’s Risk and play: A literature review examines scholarly research in this field, including many studies that suggest that risk-taking is an essential and beneficial aspect of play. She concludes, “There is evidence to suggest that many of the measures that have been taken to crate ‘safer’ play for children are neither necessary nor effective.”

Posted in Child safety | Comments Off

Google pulls scanning and ads from education apps

Google Education apps

Google Education apps

In addition to its consumer and business services, Google is also in the business of providing apps for education with apps such as Gmail, Drive, Docs, spreadsheets and YouTube for Schools. These apps, according  to the company, serve more than 30 million students, teachers and administrators.

Disclosure: I’m co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Google  and other companies.

Google wrote that “Users who have chosen to show AdSense ads on their Google Sites will still have the ability to display those existing ads on their websites. However, as of October it has not been possible to edit or add new AdSense ads to existing sites or to new pages.”

Google also said that it has “permanently removed the ‘enable/disable’ toggle for ads in the Apps for Education Administrator console. This means ads in Apps for Education services are turned off and administrators no longer have the option or ability to turn ads in these services on.”

Acknowledged scanning per law-suit

As Education Week reported in March, Google acknowledged the scanning in response to a law-suit over  data mining within its education apps.

There had been questions over whether the Google scanning was in violation of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) law which, regulates information that can be collected from and about students.

Recently published guidance from the Office of Education is a little vague about whether it covers services like Google docs. In response to the question “Is Student Information Used in Online Educational Services Protected by FERPA?” the document answers that “It depends. Because of the diversity and variety of online educational services, there is no universal answer to this question.” The document says that “schools and districts will typically need to evaluate the use of online educational services on a case-by-case basis.”

Smart move


Posted in Child safety | Comments Off

Facebook adding more user-control of app privacy


Facebook to offer more control over what information users must reveal to apps

This post first appeared on

Speaking at Facebook’s F8 developers’ conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that “Over the years one of the things we’ve heard over and over again is that people want more control over how they share their information, especially with apps.”  He added, “If people don’t have the tools  they need to feel comfortable using your apps than that’s bad for them and it’s bad for you. He pledged that “we need to do everything we can to put people first and give people the tools they need to sign in and trust (your) apps.” Facebook also posted details on its developers blog.

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

Addresses user fear

Zuckerberg addressed an issue that has plagued me ever since Facebook started allowing third party app developers to let users sign-in with Facebook. It’s always felt like a bit of a black box. When I sign into an app, I’m never sure what information I’ll share, not only with the app developer but with my friends. And there is even the risk that you could reveal information about your friends by using a third party app. “We know that some people are scared about pressing this blue (Login with Facebook) button,” said Zuckerberg. He added, “if you’re using an app that you don’t completely trust or you’re worried might spam your friends, than you’re not going to give it a lot of permissions.”

Change “line by line” what you reveal to apps

Last year Facebook separated read and publish permission so that apps can no longer require you to publish to all your friends, but the company is now including a dialog that lets you change “line by line what you share with this app,” said Zuckerberg. You could, for example, choose not to share your email address or other details or withhold other permissions. “I can sign in on my own terms,” said Zuckerberg.

Users get to control what their friends share about them

Zuckerberg also admitted that people can sometimes be surprised when friends share some of your data with an app. In the past when a friend logged into an app, that app could ask you to share your own data and data your friends had shared with you. But, going forward, “we are going to make it so now everyone has to choose to share their own data with an app themselves.”

Anonymous log-in


Sometimes when you want to try a new app, you don’t really want to create an account or sign in with your real identity so Facebook is offering a new feature called Anonymous log-in that enables you to sign into a new app without having to reveal your identity. Facebook of course does know who you are, but with the anonymous service, they won’t tell the app who you are. They do give you an anonymous identifier that enables you to use the app on various devices. Later, you have the option of signing-in under your real name.

App links

Facebook also introduced “App Links,” which is a platform that enables developers to “map your web content to your mobile content” across devices and platforms.

As this Facebook video explains, App-links make it easier for developers to allow users to link directly into their apps.

Posted in Child safety | Comments Off

A taste of Turkish Internet censorship

This column first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Today’s column was supposed to be about alternatives to the broken user-name and password systems, but as I was doing my research, I hit upon an obstacle that required me to change topics.

I had planned to comment on a report about a security flaw in Samsung’s recently released Galaxy S5 phone that enabled hackers to bypass the phone’s fingerprint recognition system. According to several press reports, researchers at SR Labs had posted a video on YouTube showing how they were able to unlock the phone using a mold of a real fingerprint. But, when I clicked on a link to view the video I saw instead a message telling me that YouTube was being blocked based on “subparagraph 4 of article 8 of law number 5651.”

You see, I was working from a hotel room last week in Istanbul, where the Turkish government has blocked access to YouTube. The government had earlier blocked Twitter, but the ban was lifted by court order. A court also ordered that YouTube access be restored, but according to Reuters, the government has decided to defy that order.

Ironically, I’m in Istanbul to help organize some workshops for the United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which takes place here in September. The IGF is where delegates from governments, companies, nonprofit organizations and universities around the world discuss a variety of Internet policy issues, including freedom of expression. One of the workshops I’m organizing is about the tension between child protection and child rights, but given what’s happening here in Turkey and elsewhere around the world, I’m tempted to expand it from child rights to human rights.

One excuse officials here used to block Twitter and YouTube was that leaked content about possible Turkish military action against Syria was threatening national security. But people I’ve spoken with here in Istanbul tell me that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s problem with Twitter and YouTube has more to do with the sites being used to expose official corruption, including postings on YouTube of audio tracks from compromising phone conversations among officials.

I’m in no position to judge what is or isn’t true about the claims and counterclaims here in Turkey, but it’s hardly the first time we’ve heard a government official using national security as an excuse to interfere with civil liberties.

What happened in Turkey has not happened in the United States, nor is it likely to happen. If our government were concerned about the security implications of a particular piece of content, it would likely attempt to block that content rather than the entire site that is hosting it. But as Edward Snowden and others have amply demonstrated, there are actions our government does take in the name of national security — including storing metadata about phone records — that some argue could have a chilling impact on speech.

And before we get too self-righteous about what’s happening in Turkey, it’s also important to recall relatively recent free speech debates in the United States. In 1996, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act, which would have completely blocked online sites deemed “harmful to minors,” had the Supreme Court not overturned those provisions. The CDA was aimed at pornography, not political speech, but there were many who worried about the slippery slope of the government banning otherwise legal speech in the name of “child protection.”

Even the 2012 debate about the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act raised troubling censorship issues because, at one point, they contained a clause that would have allowed officials to effectively block access to entire sites accused of illegally distributing copyrighted material. I bring this up not to rekindle the debate about those bills, which were withdrawn as a result of an organized online protest movement, but as a reminder that we in the United States also need to look inward when criticizing the actions of other countries.

As I sit in my Istanbul hotel room unable to do my work because of a government blockage, I recall the last time I had to postpone a writing project because of a government. Last fall I was working on a booklet called “A Parents Guide to Cyberbullying” and needed access to bullying statistics from a research study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But when I clicked on the link to the study, I got a message telling me that the CDC’s website was offline because of the government shutdown over Congress’ refusal to agree on a spending bill. It wasn’t censorship, but it was politically motivated and to a writer trying to access government funded research, it was very annoying.

For me, not being able to watch a YouTube video was only a minor inconvenience — I can revisit the subject of fingerprint recognition sometime later. But for the Turkish people, it’s infuriating when their government shuts down an entire social media platform just because some officials are unhappy with what some people have posted there. It’s also a reminder that civil liberties are precious and should never be taken for granted, even in the United States, where freedom of speech is enshrined in our Constitution.

Posted in Child safety | Comments Off

Bullying Books Empower Students, Parents and School Personnel


Author Nancy Willard

Author Nancy Willard

Nancy Willard has been writing and speaking about cyberbullying since practically before the term was coined. But, like most cyberbullying experts, she knows that cyberbullying — for the most part — is bullying. And that — plus a lot of research, a Masters in Education and a law degree — qualify her as a bullying expert.


New book by Nancy Willard helps educators and parents deal with bullying

Willard has recently written two important books. One, which you can buy on Amazon for $40.19, is Positive Relations @ School (& Elsewhere): Legal Parameters & Positive Strategies to Address Bullying & Harassment. 

If you’re a school administrator, a counselor, a teacher or a parent leader, you owe it to yourself and your students to read this book. In it Willard focuses on what schools are doing to stop bullying and what is and isn’t working. Wearing both her educator and lawyer hats, she shares insights into bullying and looks at laws and enforcement while providing supporting resources and an “action plan.” Willard — who I often quote in my bullying articles — writes about “hurtful speech vs. free speech” and explores “disparaging speech on campus.” 

Well meaning adults can make things worse

Naturally, adults at school and home want to support kids in their care, but Willard points out that many of the most commonly used approaches, like a strict disciplinary policy are often ineffective. Pointing to research, she cites a study that found “while 87% of school staff think they have effective strategies for handling bullying, 58% of middle and 66% of high school students believe adults at school are not doing enough to stop or prevent bullying.”

A free ebook for parents

Free ebook for parents

Free ebook for parents. Download here

Willard has also written a free 26-page ebook that you can download for free from her Embrace Civility website.  The short ebook, which draws on some of the materials in her education book,  provides talks about why “the current bullying prevention approach is not working,” and gives parents advice on legal protection for their bullied child or teen.” There are also “strategies to prepare and make your case for the need for more effective intervention in the situation facing your child or teen.” There are short chapters on legal protections including “preparing and making your case,” plus practical tips to help resolve and diffuse problems. “One of the biggest mistakes the parent of a bullied child or teen can make is calling for the student(s) who are being hurtful to be ‘punished,’ wrote Willard. “Holding these students accountable and ensuring their hurtful actions are  stopped is essential. Punishment will not accomplish this.”

Anne Collier, my co-director has more thoughts on Willard’s books along with some insight of her own in her blog post, “A positive, insightful new book for schools on bullying.”

Another free resource is A Parents Guide to Cyberbullying from, the non-profit organization where I serve as co-director. In this 8-page guide, we focus on just the basics that parents need to know when dealing with bullying online and on mobile devices (which of course often has its roots in school).


Download free 8-page parents guide

Posted in Child safety | Comments Off

Facebook’s ‘Nearby Friends’ feature: What you need to know


New feature shows when friends are nearby (and you near them)

This post is adapted from one that first appeared on

Facebook is rolling out a new feature for its mobile app that allows you to  share your approximate location with friends. The opt-in feature (it’s turned off by default) enables you to find and be found by nearby friends. The feature can be turned on or off at any time and both parties have to have the feature enabled. When you configure the feature you can select to share with all your friends or a sub-set like only family or only close friends.

The feature is only available for users over 18 so, unless they lie about their age, it is not available to minors.

Listen to Larry Magid’s 1-minute CBS News segment on Nearby Friends

With this feature enabled, you might be able to know that a friend is nearby so you can meet up.

In addition to sharing your approximate location with a group of friends, you have the option of sharing yourprecise location with specific friends and you can decide how long your specific location will be shared. For example, I could decide to share my exact location with Susie Smith between now and 11:00, assuming Susie also had the feature turned on. I would only know her location if she shared it with me.

If friends are traveling you will able able to see the city and neighborhood that they’re in, according to a Facebook blog post.

Friends only

The maximum exposure is friends. You can not set it for friends of friends or publicly display your location. Users’ location history is permanently  set to “only me”  according to a Facebook spokesperson.


Safety and privacy  

The feature certainly can be misused to provide your location to someone who shouldn’t know it, but there are plenty of safeguards available, as long as you use them. As with any location app, you should only share your precise location with people you know and trust. Even sharing your approximate location could be inappropriate or even dangerous in some cases if people who you don’t want to find you can use it to figure out where you are. It can also have other implications. If your boss thinks you’re at an offsite meeting in Los Angeles but you’re sharing that you’re actually in San Francisco, it could have a big problem on your hands.

Not for minors under 18

This feature is for adults only. No one under 18 can use this feature, assuming that they have signed on with their correct age.

Other location sharing apps

Facebook is hardly a pioneer when it comes to location sharing. Glympse (also a ConnectSafely supporter) has long offered a location sharing app that even allows you to follow someone as they drive. By default, it times-out in 15 minutes but you can opt to share  your location for a maximum of four hours.



Disclosure: Facebook provides financial support to

Posted in Child safety | Comments Off

Anonymous isn’t synonymous with ominous

This post first appeared on CNET News

by Larry Magid

I’ve heard a lot of consternation about apps and sites that let users post anonymously and, indeed it is possible to use services like Whisper, Ask.FM, Secret, and Yik Yak to be annoying, mean, or downright cruel. But the same can be said for any tool that enables social interaction, whether it’s a social network, a phone, or even a place where people meet face-to-face. In fact, research has shown the in-person bullying is much more prominent than cyberbullying.

But just because a service enables people to post anonymously doesn’t mean that people will necessarily use it in an inappropriate manner. The overwhelming majority of both kids and adults who use such services do so in ways that are respectful to themselves and others. And, where problems do occur, there are often mechanism to deal with them. They’re not perfect and they’re not on all services but community guidelines and moderation — where present — can go a long way to assuring a pleasant experience on any type of social networking service.

Why people post anonymously

It’s pretty obvious why corporate or government whistle-blowers and dissidents in oppressive countries would post anonymously, but there are plenty of reasons why ordinary people would as well.

The word is out among both kids and adults that what you post online can follow you forever. Whether its Facebook status updates or tweets, anything you say in social media can be attributed to you and can come back to haunt you if its embarrassing, silly, or just taken out-of-context. But there are times when people want to “be themselves” without necessarily wanting to be on a stage for all to see and judge. It could be a silly comment or observation or perhaps a political comment that might pigeon-hole you or affect your relationships with others. Some have used anonymous services to express their love or admiration for another and many use it to discuss issues of both physical or emotional health that they might not want to be publicly associated with.

Even if you’re not a whistle-blower, you might have something to say about your boss, your teacher or principal or someone else in authority but you’re worried about repercussions. You might even be a victim of bullying looking for a way to express your hurt or anger without having to worry about revenge or other repercussions.

Secret co-founder on secret behind Secret

In a recorded interview (scroll down to listen), Secret co-founder Chrys Bader argued that “there’s a need to be able to express yourself and make yourself vulnerable in order to connect with those around you on a meaningful level.”

Secret co-founder Chrys Bader (Secret)

Secret co-founder Chrys Bader (Secret)

“When you’re on Facebook you’re standing on a platform in front of a mixed audience of your friends, family and acquaintances,” he added. “Se we try to our best foot forward.” When asked whether being anonymous is truly being self-expressive, Bader retorted, “If you look at someone’s Facebook profile would you necessarily say that’s that person? It’ s not necessarily who they are but who they project themselves as.” Bayder defines being oneself as being able to “express your own characteristics, your sense of humor, what’s bothering you. It’s catharsis.” He calls it “a loss for the world when people hold themselves back.” He mentioned a post where someone said they stepped out of a handicapped stall to be confronted by “a guy in a wheelchair with anger in his eyes.” That’s a confession that you probably wouldn’t want to attach your name to.

Unlike some anonymous services, Secret doesn’t share your secrets with just anyone. When you join Secret you become connected with everyone in your contact list who also has the Secret app. “So,” said Bayder, “when you post a secret, it’s delivered to people who have you in their address book and you’re seeing secrets from people in your address book.” If one of your contacts “hearts” something it could be shared with their friends as well.

Anonymity and kids

Secret is mostly aimed at professionals and, since it doesn’t ask age, Bader doesn’t know how many kids are using the service but he said there are clearly some teens using it (youth under 13 are prohibited by the sites terms of service). Yik Yak, another popular anonymous app, bans people under 17 but there are lots of reported cases of teens using the service and reported cases of anonymous bomb threats that led to school lockdowns. Yik Yak’s response was to geofence the app so that it couldn’t be used in or near middle schools and high schools. The company reportedly also asked Apple to classify the app as 17+ which enables parents to prevent their kids from downloading it.

An anonymous app just for high-schoolers

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 4.14.21 PM

Mandeep Dhillon releases FessApp for teens

With its FessApp, for iOS and Android, Polymath Innovations took the opposite approach. They have launched an anonymous app specifically for high school students. Polymath co-founder Mandeep Dhillon is no stranger to online kids. He was the founder of Togetherville, a social-networking site aimed at young children that was acquired by Disney in 2011 and he spent a year as Disney’s vice president of Strategy.

Dhillon’s new company, he said in a recorded interview (scroll down to listen), “is very much about trying to build community for high school students.” He said that “anonymity in our context is not the same as having no responsibility.” Even though students can engage anonymously with each other the company, said Dhillon, “requires users to sign up with their real identity” so that they can be held accountable for their actions.

They currently sign up people through Facebook which helps the company validate the user’s age and high school. It’s not perfect (people can lie about their age on Facebook) but it’s pretty hard to fake an entire social graph on Facebook so it’s a reasonably good proxy for validation. Students who sign up with a fake Facebook account, said, Dhillon, “won’t be associated with students that go to their school if their school’s not validated.”

The service also moderates conversation to protect against bullying and other violation of its terms of service which bans “any material that could be considered racist, threatening, violent, bullying or unlawful in any way.” Like Secret, FessApp discourages people from shaming or identifying specific individuals in their posts.

Anonymity, said Dhillon, “allows students to engage in a very open and honest way.” Fess is short for “confessions” and students use the app to vent about a variety of subjects including “their grades, their parents, or the anxieties of being a student although way from being lonely or worried about relationships or being invited to the prom.” Others in their network can comment on the student’s post and they can engage in an conversation about it. When it comes to bullying — which can take place in any type of community — FessApp “gives people an opportunity in the community to step in and flag content and say this is inappropriate.” Like Secret, FessApp is something of an antidote to the public nature of Facebook. “The Facebook theater can be exhausting. Constantly being under the spotlight, trying to find ways to get attention on these platforms can really drive you crazy.,” said Dhillon. With FessApp, students can say what’s on their minds without having to worry about it sticking around forever.

Bullying experts weigh-in

Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said that “anonymous posting can be beneficial for those who are exploring particular beliefs and ideals that they wouldn’t necessarily want to go public with just yet.” One example, said Patchin is a person who is “trying to figure out who I am politically, religiously, morally, etc. Posting publicly may be too high of a price to pay for this exploration.” He also reminded me that “some of the greatest works of literature were initially published anonymously.”

Patchin said that “anonymity becomes a problem when one is using it as a cloak from behind which to lob attacks at others. If this happens, those who are being targeted for attack should make a copy of the hurtful content for their own records and then contact the administrator to ask that it be removed.”

Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor and former director of safety for MySpace who now runs SSP Blue — a safety, privacy and security consulting firm, pointed out that “anonymity is extremely important for law enforcement” which depends on anonymous tips for many of its investigations. The Catholic church’s use of the confession booth is another example that encourages anonymity.

Being yourself, regardless of age or who you are

Both Dhillon and Secret co-founder Baden talked a lot about how their apps free people up to be who they are. At first that sounds a bit counter-intuitive because — with anonymity — people don’t know who they are. But the person doing the posting does and, without fear of long or short term consequences, it actually is intuitive that people will say what’s on their minds. For the most part, that’s a good thing but of course there will always be a small percentage of people who abuse it. That’s where community comes in.

Anonymous doesn’t mean invisible

Secret and FessApp know who you are and if you break the law using their services, there is a chance you’ll be caught. Companies that offer phone-apps can track your phone number and user ID and even if you’re logged on to a website, it is often possible to track down your Internet protocol (IP) address. It’s not uncommon for law enforcement to obtain warrants that require service providers to disclose the identity of users who think they are “anonymous.” In other words, you hide but you can’t run. At least not forever.


Scroll down to listen to the full interviews with both Chrys Bader and Mandeep Dhillon



Posted in Child safety | Comments Off

How to protect your family from Heartbleed security flaw (Slideshow)

First, don’t panic. This is a serious problem but you need to put it into perspective. While there is clearly a vulnerability, there are so far no reports of the flaw being exploited. And even though this flaw has been around for the past two years, almost all the major sites have fixed it — in some cases in the last few days.

There have been reports of hardware — routers and other equipment — that could be affected but, so far, we have only heard about devices used in big organizations. To be safe, visit the website of the company that makes your router to see if there are any updates.

What you can (and can’t) do

When it comes to protection, there is very little that individuals can do. It’s up to site and service operators to fix their systems.  If you’re unsure about systems you use, click on the test site links (below) to check and also be sure to look at CNET’s report on the top 100 sites.

Test sites:

Change your password if you site is now secure

If you can confirm that the sites you’re using are secure, this is a good time to change your password. Actually you should change passwords every few months anyway. Make sure you’re using a unique password for each site and make sure that it contains upper case letters, numbers and symbols and don’t use a dictionary word or a common name. This sounds hard, but ConnectSafely’s Tips for Strong Secure Passwords has easy to use suggestions. Also,scrll down to view ConnectSafely’s slide show.

Monitor your accounts

The Department of Homeland Security advises that you “Closely monitor your email accounts, bank accounts, social media accounts, and other online assets for irregular or suspicious activity, such as abnormal purchases or messages.”

Beware of ‘phishing’ schemes

Also, beware of “phishing schemes.” You might get  email that appears to be from banks and other sites, “disclosing” that the site was vulnerable and asking users to reset their passwords. These could be phishing attacks designed to trick  you into revealing your log-on credentials to thieves. And some of these attacks are very sophisticated, taking you to sites that look identical to a company’s real site.

If you get such an email DO NOT CLICK on any links. If you feel that it’s time to change your password (and you should once you know the site is no longer vulnerable), type in the site’s URL in your browser and navigate to the password reset page. It’s less convenient than clicking on a link but a lot safer. Here are tips for safe, secure and unique passwords.



Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.36.13 PMFirst, don’t panic. This is a serious problem but you need to put it into perspective. While there is clearly a vulnerability, there are so far no reports of the flaw being exploited. And even though this flaw has been around for the past two years, almost all the major sites have fixed it — in some cases in the last few days.

There have been reports of hardware — routers and other equipment — that could be affected but, so far, we have only heard about devices used in big organizations. To be safe, visit the website of the company that makes your router to see if there are any updates.

What you can (and can’t) do

When it comes to protection, there is very little that individuals can do. It’s up to site and service operators to fix their systems.  If you’re unsure about systems you use, click on the test site links (below) to check and also be sure to look at CNET’s report on the top 100 sites.

Test sites:

Change your password if you site is now secure

If you can confirm that the sites you’re using are secure, this is a good time to change your password. Actually you should change passwords every few months anyway. Make sure you’re using a unique password for each site and make sure that it contains upper case letters, numbers and symbols and don’t use a dictionary word or a common name. This sounds hard, but ConnectSafely’s Tips for Strong Secure Passwords has easy to use suggestions. Also,scrll down to view ConnectSafely’s slide show.

Monitor your accounts

The Department of Homeland Security advises that you “Closely monitor your email accounts, bank accounts, social media accounts, and other online assets for irregular or suspicious activity, such as abnormal purchases or messages.”

Beware of ‘phishing’ schemes

Also, beware of “phishing schemes.” You might get  email that appears to be from banks and other sites, “disclosing” that the site was vulnerable and asking users to reset their passwords. These could be phishing attacks designed to trick  you into revealing your log-on credentials to thieves. And some of these attacks are very sophisticated, taking you to sites that look identical to a company’s real site.

If you get such an email DO NOT CLICK on any links. If you feel that it’s time to change your password (and you should once you know the site is no longer vulnerable), type in the site’s URL in your browser and navigate to the password reset page. It’s less convenient than clicking on a link but a lot safer. Here are tips for safe, secure and unique passwords.

Posted in Child safety | Comments Off

The evolution of online safety: Lessons learned over 20 years

When I wrote the original version of Child Safety on the Information Highway (click here for 20th anniversary updated version), in 1994, “online safety” was largely defined as keeping kids away from porn and predators and the solution was pretty much focused on parental controls.

But, over the past two decades, there have been a lot of changes in both online and mobile technology and some research that gives us a better picture of risks and prevention strategies.

Porn and predators are still part of the picture, but — now that we have some research — we know that the risk of a child being harmed by someone they meet online is extremely low, especially compared to other risks. If a child is going to be harmed by an adult, it is far more likely to be someone they know from the real world such as a relative, family friend or other trusted adult.

As for porn, there is no question that kids who want to find it probably will, but after more than 20 years of Internet access, we haven’t seen huge social or psychological problems emerge. Still, many parents are rightfully concerned about the type of content their kids are viewing, which is why I wrote So your kid is looking at porn. Now what?.

Real risks

Over time it became increasingly obvious that some of the biggest risks to kids came not from dangerous adults but from themselves and other kids. In 2009, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, assembled by Harvard’s Berkman Center per an agreement between 49 state attorneys general and MySpace, concluded that “actual threats that youth may face appear to be different than the threats most people imagine” and that “the image presented by the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an accurate picture of the nature of the majority of sexual solicitations and Internet-initiated offline encounters.”

What the task force did find is that “bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most salient threats that minors face, both online and offline.” Partially because researchers can’t agree on a definition of bullying and harassment, the actual risk is hard to quantify, but it is clearly much higher than the risk of being harmed by a predator.

Bullying and “trolling” have been around forever, and it’s true that among young people, so-called “cyberbullying” is often an extension of school-yard issues. But the Internet and phones do change the equation for a number of well-known reasons, including the ability for mean comments to stick around and be passed with lightning speed. Plus, the Net has created new ways to bully like impersonating someone by getting hold of their phone or password    or passing around inappropriate pictures of someone.

Privacy, security and reputation management

As the online safety field evolves, it is starting to focus on some of the more common risks to both youth and adults: privacy, security and reputation management.

While protecting one’s privacy has always been a challenge (i.e. small-town gossip going back centuries), the Internet and mobile technology have created opportunities for privacy problems on a grand scale. For one thing, there is what we post. It’s now very easy to post information that might embarrass yourself or others or reveal secrets that perhaps you ought not to share. There is also the issue of things that companies know about us. Anyone who uses a search engine, email service or social network is leaving breadcrumbs for companies to follow. What’s more, thanks to third-party tracking cookies, some of that information is getting into the hands of companies that we might not even know exist. It’s a serious issue that needs serious thought by consumers, regulators and companies. And everyone — including children and teens — needs to learn how to at least limit what others can find out about them. Plus, thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that the U.S. and other governments have the capacity to track us as well, and given the enormous power of government over our lives, that too can be a serious problem.

Security is another Internet safety issue that has gotten worse over the years. It seems like every day brings another major security breach where we learn about the vulnerability of our usernames and passwords, credit card information or email. There are lots of professionals in government and the private sector who are working to beef up security but there are plenty of criminals out there finding ways to gain entry into our personal information. It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and right now the “good guys” are way behind. While there is no way to be 100% hacker-proof, there are ways families can improve their security and use secure and unique passwords.

Reputation management is something we thought about in the 90′s but it’s a bigger issue now thanks to social networking and smartphone apps that make it very easy to impulsively post things that can embarrass us now or in the future. A lot of young people are savvy when it comes to avoiding posting things that can get them into trouble but there are plenty of people (including lots of adults) who need to rethink their posting habits.

Moral panics don’t help

Whether it’s predator panic, bullying panic, sexting panic, privacy panic or secrecy panic, moral panics are not helpful.

As technology evolves, there will be new risks but what we’ve learned from 20 years of online safety is that risks have more to do with the social-emotional condition of the user than the actual technology being used. For example, there has lately been a lot of concern over the services that allow people to post anonymously. While it is true that these services can be used to bully, harass and embarrass others, it’s also true that there are lots of positive uses for them. Sure there will be some who misuse these services, but the vast majority of youth and adults — those who respect themselves and others — will use them appropriately. Just as with fire, knives, cars and other powerful technologies, the key is to encourage safe and appropriate use while doing what’s necessary to deal with the relatively rare but sometimes tragic cases of inappropriate use.

Parental involvement vs. controls

While there are plenty of products that can control or monitor what your kids can do online, none are as powerful or effective in the long term as parental involvement. A filter might prevent your child from visiting a certain site or service on a specific device but conversations over a period of time can help your child develop values that will last a lifetime.

Regardless of whether you choose to use a filtering program or an Internet rating system, the best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. The best filter — the one that lasts a lifetime — doesn’t run on a device but on the software between your child’s ears.

Focus on  causes, not just symptoms

Another thing we’ve learned is that problems that manifest themselves online or with mobile technology are often symptoms of larger social or personal issues. Just as with drunk or careless driving and substance abuse, there are almost always underlying issues that cause people to misuse technologies and the real solution rarely lies with the technology and often lies with the what that is causing the person to act as they are. Even cyberbullying is less about technology or even “bullying” and more about the social-emotional state of the people involved. And to that end we need to start putting more resources into social-emotional learning,  growing compassion and emphasizing positive social norms for both youth and adults.


Posted in Bullying, Child safety, Commentary | Comments Off