Digital Safety

You are here

The Dangers of Connected Toys

Did your kids get any “connected digital toys” as holiday gifts? If so you might want to take a look at the Federal Bureau of Investigation notice on the privacy and unapproved contact concerns that such toys can pose. You might also want to take a look at the article A Cute Toy Just Brought a Hacker Into Your Home for some of the safety concerns about the latest toy releases. This includes the Q50 smart watch for kids, the Furby Connect doll, and even the BB-8 droid, which was released with “The Last Jedi” this past month, which some testing services found had an insecure Bluetooth connection.

Former President Obama Talks to Prince Harry About Social Media

Former President Barack Obama and the United Kingdom's Prince Harry took to the airwaves for a recent BBC interview where they discussed the potential dangers of social media and how it should be used to promote diversity and find common ground. "One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases," Obama stated. The former president also echoed something that parents concerned about their kids growing up in a Digital Age try to communicate to their children reiterating that " the truth is that on the internet everything is simplified and when you meet people face to face it turns out they are complicated." Perhaps, something every cyberbully should remember?

YouTube Implements New Policy To Flag Inappropriate Videos Targeted at Kids

Medium post and New York Times article recently highlighted an ongoing problem with YouTube Kids.  There are bizarre and disturbing videos, like the popular character Peppa the Pig drinking bleach or the characters from Paw Patrol getting killed off.  These videos, aimed at young children, are found by using relevant key words and popular children’s character’s names. Now, YouTube says it is putting in place a new process to age-restrict these types of videos in the main YouTube app. Videos from the main platform will not appear on YouTube Kids for several days, giving extra time for users to flag questionable content and for teams to review flagged videos. One suggestion is that until this problem is resolved parents should be very mindful of the kinds of videos kids are consuming on YouTube and YouTube Kids.

National PTA –Digital Safety Resources

With school starting you might want to check out this list of digital safety resources suggested by the National PTA. This time of year is a good time to create a contract with your family on how to responsibly use digital devices and to set down some guidelines/rules. One great tool for guiding you through that process is the Smart Talk site sponsored by the National PTA and LifeLock. The process has three steps. Together with your kids you consider various categories including safety and privacy, screen time, apps, texting, and social media, just to name a few. The site guides you through a series of questions that will help you set the ground rules for each category. You can also print your own customized agreement and post it where everyone in the family can see it. The site streamlines what can sometimes be an uncomfortable process and helps keep the conversation on the topics that need to be covered.

Got a Young Gamer? Take a Minute to Learn 7 Safety Tips

If your kids love online gaming, it is important to keep up with the latest tips on how to keep them playing safely and smartly. Got just a minute to do that? Check out this video entitled 7 Easy Hacks for Parents of Young Gamers.

Online Predators – Get the Facts

Media stories about online predators make for sensationalized press, playing on parental fears, but how worried should you be? Overall statistics show that unwanted sexual solicitation is down but the most important thing is to arm yourself with facts about the issue and solutions if you suspect your child is, or could become, a victim. Common Sense Media recently took up the topic in an article entitled The Facts about Online Predators Every Parent Should Know. The article outlines the facts and strategies for handling your concerns about online predators.

Get Up to Speed on Snapchat Ghost Mode

As you may have observed with your own teens, Facebook and Twitter are fading and Snapchat is the app of choice these days. Even if you are familiar with Snapchat, you may need to get up to speed on a new feature called Snap Map. The feature lets users see where Snaps (messages or pictures) are being composed from. If users want to keep that information private (versus letting the whole world know where they are), users must choose Ghost Mode. Need more information on how to set up Ghost Mode and Snap Map? See Talk to your teen about Snapchat Ghost Mode on the USA Today site.

Privacy and Internet Safety Q. and A.

Where should you look when a question comes up at home about setting parental controls or whether you should post those pictures of your kids online? Try the Privacy and Internet Safety section of the Common Sense Media site. While there are research articles all over the web with information on this subject, this section covers a wide range of topics and is something you might want to add to your browser’s bookmarks for quick reference.

Apple’s New iPhone Operating System (iOS 11) To Feature ‘Do Not Disturb While Driving’ Mode

When iOS 11 comes to iPhones (and iPads) this fall, the new operating system will include a "Do Not Disturb While Driving" mode users can turn on. When the feature is activated, your iPhone can tell when you may be driving and will automatically mute your notifications so the screen remains dark. You can also set up your device to send your favorite contacts an automatic reply to tell them you are driving and will get back to them when you arrive. An excellent idea for all drivers, especially teens, so be sure to check it out this fall.

Is Teaching Kids Ethical Hacking Essential?

Most kids do not grow up dreaming of becoming a hacker, but that may be exactly what the US needs according to David Brumley, a professor of computer and electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. Brumly promotes the idea of a nationwide cybersecurity education program to bolster cybersecurity and protect the nation from attacks, and writes that we need to recognize that the hacking mindset - learning to think differently, being curious, and always experimenting - is very valuable and may be the only way to keep this country safe in the future.

Messaging App Privacy Questioned

The suspect in the recent terrorist attack in London apparently used the messaging app WhatsApp just before the incident, raising calls for intelligence services to be allowed access to such accounts. A number of apps now employ end-to-end encryption to ensure user privacy, but this raises the same issue as when Apple refused to create a “backdoor” option on their phones after the San Bernadino terror attack occurred. The reason these tech companies are so adverse to allowing this “backdoor” option is that doing so would prevent them from being able to offer hack proof encryption and privacy, something customers are typically unwilling to compromise on.

Location Sharing on Google Maps Could Be an Issue

Goggle Maps recently included a location sharing feature as an update to the Google Maps app for your phone and personal computer. While this kind of location sharing is already available on other apps, privacy experts are worried about adding this feature to one of the world’s most popular apps when so many are concerned about digital safety and privacy. When location sharing is turned on, your teen can be tracked when out with friends, and if you are not careful to limit access to only friends and family, burglars can even find out when you are out of the house for the day. On a more positive note, the app can be set up to let someone know where you are, or that you’ve arrived to your location safely, but then the tracking will turn off when you arrive. Google will also send you emails to remind you have the feature on if you forget to turn it off. Take a look at this article for help with turning the location sharing on and off and for more information about the feature.

US Advertisers Pull Ads from Google and YouTube Over Extremist Videos

Google is attempting to quell a growing furor by the British government and major brands in both the U.K and the U.S., who are angered by the placement of their online ads alongside offensive or extremist content — such as videos by white supremacists or the Islamic State. Recently Google said they would pull online ads from controversial content, give brands more control over where their ads appear, and deploy more people to enforce its ad policies.

 "Brand safety" has emerged as possibly the biggest issue facing the advertising industry. For large marketers, even one ad placed next to extremist content can cause harm to a brand. As a result, AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, Apple and other major U.S. advertisers are pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in business from Google and its video service YouTube until Google can fix the issue.

A Common Sense K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum for Your School

If your child’s teacher has introduced the topic of being a good digital citizen, or if you just want to review some key safety concepts with your child, you may want to check out the Common Sense Education K-12 Digital Citizenship curriculum. The program includes everything from lesson plans, videos, student interactives, and assessments, to professional learning and family outreach materials. Topics covered include: Relationships and Communication, Internet Safety, Cyberbullying and Digital Drama, and Creative Credit and Copyright as well as other pertinent issues.

Google Safety Center for Families

Discover the top five Google safety features designed to help you keep your family safe at the Google Safety Center. Some of the tips shared include on how to use parental controls as part of your browser, how limit access to only apps and games you approve, and how to get family friendly results when you conduct a search.

Virtual Reality Headsets – Advice and Safety Concerns

If your kids are asking for a virtual reality headset this holiday season, you might be interested in this guide from Common Sense Media. It covers everything from Google's inexpensive Cardboard VR viewer to Sony's new PlayStation VR. The guide mentions the headsets have minimum age requirements set by the manufacturers that you should check before you buy – generally ages 12 and up. This is important to keep in mind because, as many are pointing out, there is little research about the effect virtual reality has on very young children. Concerns include psychological development, effects on the eyes, and problems distinguishing reality from fiction or fantasy, which young children already have difficulty doing and is exaggerated even more in virtual reality.

Ugly List Scam

The “Ugly List” scam is making its way around again.  How does it work? You get an Instagram notification saying you've been tagged in a post. The catch? The post is called "Ugly List 2016," and it was a friend who tagged you. How mean! 

In the notification, there's a link to see the full post. You click on it, and it leads to a page that appears to be the Instagram log in. You need to enter your username and password before you can see the "Ugly List," but don't fall for it! The form is fake. It is a way for scammers to steal usernames and passwords. Once scammers have your account info, they will hack your Instagram and tag your followers in new "Ugly List" posts, perpetuating the con and stealing more information.

Watch Out for Spectacles

The company formerly known as Snapchat surprised the world recently by unveiling Spectacles, its first hardware product. The sunglasses, which record videos in 30-second increments, are expected to be available for sale sometime soon. Snap Inc., as the company is now called, says it will be producing the glasses in small quantities. Spectacles are wirelessly connected and record video snippets that get saved to a Snapchat Memories account. The camera, which looks like a circular logo on the front of the sunglass lens, has a 115-degree viewing radius meant to more accurately reflect how humans see. The glasses will cost $130, come in one size, and be available in three colors: black, teal, and coral. Images are transferred to a smartphone via WiFi. While the device is likely to intrigue children and other Snapchat users, it also brings some privacy concerns, as filming someone secretly– for good or bad – will just get that much easier.

Be Careful What You Share Online

With the unfolding of both a contentious political season and a new school year, a recent article on the BBC reminds us that we need to be careful what we post. It is always important to consider who can read your social media posts, especially if you are thinking about sharing controversial opinions, discussing politics, or venting about work or school situations. The article reminds readers that social media posts can also have an effect on job searches, since potential employers are likely to take a look at your accounts before hiring you.

The Problem with Trolls

As a new school year begins, the topic of cyberbullying will inevitably come up. Joel Stein’s article, How Trolls Are Ruining the Internet, is a pertinent read for parents. A troll is another type of cyberbully and is defined as a person who harasses others online just for the fun of it. They may take a contrarian view just for laughs, or may be very serious about their arguments, but unfortunately their nastiness and passion can sometimes devolve into threats or worse. Psychologists call this the “online disinhibition effect,” in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building. Unfortunately, our smartphones deliver this stream of ugliness 24/7 and it is not easy to avoid. Stein’s article clearly outlines the problem and though not many solutions are offered, it does as a reminder that words can be very destructive.