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Some Children’s Apps My Not Be As Safe As You Think

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA, is a federal law designed in part to protect children under 13 years old on websites designed for kids, but a recent study found that just because a children’s app is certified complaint, it may not be any better than apps that are non-certified. The study, published in the journal Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies, states that because  app certification may not guarantee security, parents should research apps their children are using and make sure they understand if and/or where personal data is stored or whether the information is being traded. It is also important to research what information the app can access from the device on which it is downloaded. For more information, check out the Federal Trade Commission site on Kids and Mobile Apps.

Facebook’s Clear History Feature is Coming

Facebook recently announced it is working on a new feature called Clear History, leaving many critics to ask why something like this hasn’t been available all along. The feature will allow you to see which websites and apps send information to Facebook when you use them, let you delete that information from your account, and turn off Facebook’s ability to store that information. While the feature will not be available for a few months, Facebook continues to try to add privacy features to belay user’s heightened concerns about online exposure of their personal data.

Teens Worry About Privacy Too

There is a misconception that young people don’t care about privacy, but research is showing that just isn’t the case. The latest take on the subject is shown in a small, but in-depth study by Claire Fontaine of the Data & Society Institute. The study finds that young adults (16-20)  are very aware of online privacy, spend “significant time managing how they present themselves on social media”, and worry about what digital footprints they leave behind.

Perhaps most eye opening about this study is Fontaine’s take on schools and the message they are sending out on privacy. She contends that schools frame online privacy for students as primarily a matter of personal responsibility, which these days really isn’t true. That’s because Silicon Valley's current business practices and a lax regulatory environment can make anyone who participates in life online vulnerable no matter how safety conscious they are. She also feels schools are falling behind in their adoption of new technology and therefore failing to keep up with their students. That failure to keep up makes it harder for teachers and administrators to guide students who have concerns, leaving them alone to wrestle with huge questions about privacy, data collection and distribution that—if recent headlines are any indication—even the adults and institutions in society are ill-positioned to handle.

This interview with the author of the study further explains the findings of the study. As Fontaine puts it, we are seeing the “adultification of teenage-hood. “ We tell kids that online privacy is a matter of personal responsibility, but the truth is that it is likely that no amount of personal responsibility can completely secure your privacy and security online. That means a much better discussion to have with kids is about the tradeoffs associated with the technologies we use. That’s not an easy task, obviously, but undeniably more realistic.”

Twitter Joins Study to Reduce Abuse on the App

Twitter is participating in an experiment proposed by Medium.com to determine whether displaying rules of behavior to its users can cut down on abusive content. Results of the study, which also aims at improved privacy protection, will be evaluated independently. Other similar research has shown that the clear display of rules by institutions makes people more likely to follow them. The news of this experiment could be an interesting discussion starter with kids on online abuse and etiquette. Do they think displaying the rules could change people’s behavior online?

YouTube Accused of Targeting Children with Ads Violating Privacy Laws

Facebook isn’t the only tech giant being challenged over its collection and use of consumer’s information. More than 20 consumer advocacy groups have recently filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission against YouTube, alleging they have been gathering the personal data of children who use their platform and then using this data to target advertisements, in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

COPPA requires commercial websites and apps to get informed parental consent before collecting any personal information on children under 13. YouTube, which is owned by Google, allows any visitor – regardless of their age - on its platform to search for content on the site and watch videos without signing in or verifying age. Although YouTube has a “kids version”, a 2017 survey by Common Sense Media found that more children watch YouTube on the main platform than on the kids' app. Of parents of kids ages zero to eight, 71 percent said their children watch videos on the main website or app, while 24 percent said their kids watch on the kids' app. 

Zuckerberg and Facebook Take Up Kid’s Privacy Issues

The privacy of students' data was discussed during Mark Zuckerberg's recent testimony before a congressional committee. Facebook's founder and CEO was asked about the privacy of a Messenger application for minors and about youth technology addiction. Zuckerberg remained composed during two days of hours long questioning by members of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees, conceding and taking responsibility for mistakes concerning data privacy, possible election tampering, hate speech and fake news, and pledging changes to address the issues. He reiterated that the platform's goal is to bring communities together and repeatedly mentioned that the company is willing to work with lawmakers on the "right" kind of regulation.

 

One thing your children may have noticed during the questioning of Zuckerberg is the lack of experience with Facebook and knowledge about the platform that many of the Senators seemed to have. It brings to light a generation gap and is a good reminder to parents that it is important to make an effort to stay somewhat current with technology – and to never be afraid to ask your children questions about what they are doing with technology. Being open to learning new things, especially from your children, is important.

YouTube to Offer Handpicked Selection of Kid’s Videos

YouTube will soon launch a new choice for parents seeking programming for their children with a version of its Kids app that offers only videos handpicked by YouTube staff  - aka the “whitelisted” version. The algorithmically suggested version will still be available, but this new version should, in theory, cut down on the number of videos that sneak through the automated selection process that could include language and jokes inappropriate for kids.

Truth Measure Implemented in Facebook Advertising

Facebook has announced that it's implementing a new authorization process for advertisers that want to place ads on its platform related to political issues and for those that manage accounts with large follower numbers, requiring them to disclose their locations and identities. Election advertising on the platform will include a "Political Ad" label, as well as disclosures about who paid for the advertising. Be sure to point this out to your kids in your discussion of digital misinformation and the importance of vetting sources.

So What Does Facebook Have on File on You?

Digging through your Facebook files is an exercise you may want to undertake if you care about how your personal information is stored and used. To get started, Facebook has a tool for downloading your data that allows you to see and take out SOME OF the information you’ve put up on Facebook. So what kinds of things can’t be deleted?

Most basic information, like your birthday, can’t be deleted. More important, the pieces of data, like the record of people you have unfriended, can’t be removed from Facebook, either. And what happens to what you can delete? Beth Gautier, a Facebook spokeswoman, recently put it this way: “When you delete something, we remove it so it’s not visible or accessible on Facebook.” She added: “You can also delete your account whenever you want. It may take up to 90 days to delete all backups of data on our servers.”

Want to know more about how to delete information on your Facebook account without deleting your account? See these tips on the Tech Crunch page.

Common Sense Reports on Virtual Reality and Children

If you have already tried using a virtual reality (VR) headset you will probably agree that the effect is pretty mind blowing, whether you are riding a virtual roller coaster or strolling down a Parisian street. While VR is becoming more popular, not much is known about the effects it may have on kids. Recently Common Sense Media released a report on the subject entitled Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, co-authored by the founding director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab. The key finding from the report is this: Everything in VR is more intense, and while VR has great potential to show kids new worlds and may help in education, the jury is still out on both the  health risks and concerns remain that what kids experience may be too “real.”

 

So what can you as a parent do when your kids want to explore VR technology? Here are some suggestions:

  • Pay attention to age ratings and choose games wisely with your own children in mind. Don't let your kids play VR games that mimic experiences you wouldn't want them to have in real life, such as using violent weapons. On the other hand, take advantage of VR that exposes kids to things they wouldn't normally get to see, feel, and learn, such as visiting a foreign country. 
  • Keep it safe. Don't let kids use VR alone, help them get oriented when they first turn it on, stay seated if possible, and if kids feel nauseous, dizzy, drained, or sad, angry, or anxious -- give it a rest for a while.
  • Keep privacy in mind. Devices that can track your movements -- including eye movements -- could store that data for purposes that haven't yet been explored.
  • Keep talking. As with all experiences with technology, make sure you test out what your kids are seeing and doing with VR and talk to them about their impressions of the games.

Facebook Rewrites Terms of Service

Facebook is spelling out in plain English how it collects and uses your data in rewritten versions of their Terms of Service and Data Use Policy. The policies are being rewritten in an effort to be more transparent with users, not to ask for new rights for collecting and using data. The movement for this change came about after Facebook revealed that they think 87 million users (or more) accounts were scrapped for data in what was known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal. You can expect to see other updates and changes in these agreements as the company moves forward.

Things to Think About When Answering Password Recovery Questions

With so much personal information available online, it's important to pick answers to security questions that hackers can't easily guess. To combat the more simplistic nature of security questions, you might consider protecting yourself by providing random answers that cannot be researched or guessed. For example, instead of providing your mother's ­actual maiden name, you might provide the made-up name Aphrodite1234!, which resembles a password more so than a name. While this approach may defeat the purpose of simpler security questions, it allows for greater privacy and more security.

Facebook Offers Feature To Remove 3rd-Party Apps

Facebook has released an option that lets users remove third-party apps in bulk. Now all you have to do is go to the Apps portion of your Facebook settings where you can click on any number of third-party apps with direct access to your data and remove them in bulk. The changes are part of Facebook’s larger efforts to make app access easier to manage and understand, alongside Facebook’s decision to more broadly limit app developers’ access to user data. The company also says it will remove apps from users' accounts automatically if they have not been accessed in more than three months.

Don’t Take that Quiz – What’s Up with That?

If you've ever downloaded a personality quiz through Facebook, you may be one of the thousands of people who unwittingly supplied information about yourself and your friends for use in highly targeted psychological profiles exploited in the 2016 presidential campaign. Frankly, most of us don't spend much time thinking about online privacy until a breach occurs. Sure, we tell our kids not to tell online strangers where they live, but beyond basic safety precautions, we're pretty hands off. Targeted ads? Who cares. Endless email alerts? Whatever. But now we know one of the key methods of getting personal information: personality quizzes. It may seem like such a menial thing to stay away from, but it is just the tip of the iceberg and serves as a reminder to be mindful of new online marketing methods and updates to your privacy settings. 

All social media offers privacy settings -- some more than others. The companies usually keep them off by default, so you have to go in and enable the ones you want. This is a good time to sit down with your kids and go over their privacy settings. Facebook, for example, offers many levels of privacy for each piece of information it stores. The safest setting to use is "Only Me," which means you're the only one who can view it and Facebook is not allowed to share it. Take a look at this guide for help in reviewing your Facebook settings.

 

Can Schools Search Students’ Phones?

Are students' personal cellphones and devices subject to searches at school? That's the question some states are beginning to address with legislation, writes Ariel Fox Johnson, senior counsel for policy and privacy at Common Sense Media, who urges school leaders to provide clarity on policies regarding students' devices. While the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that police need a warrant to search a cell phone, there has been a little more leeway when it comes to schools. If a student, parent or teacher were to challenge a search, the court must consider why the search was undertaken and if the search’s scope was reasonably related to the circumstances that led to the search in the first place. For example, if a student has video of a disagreement between a student and a teacher in a classroom, it would not be reasonable for a search to be done of all the e-mails on the child’s phone, whereas a search of other videos might be warranted. Do you know what your state’s or district’s policies are on searching students’ digital devices?

Windows 10 and Macintosh Operating System Tools for Keeping Track of Children Online

Did you know there are tools already part of your computer’s operating system for keeping track of how much time your children play games and do other things online? Detailed instructions on how to find those free tools and use them for both the Windows 10 and the Macintosh operating system are part of a recent Personal Tech blog post in The New York Times. You can keep track of what games, apps, and websites your children visit and how much time they spend on each, and even check out what keywords they are searching for in your browser. You can also set limits on your children’s screen time.

New Rating System for Education Apps Stresses Privacy

Common Sense Media has released a three-tiered privacy-rating system for education apps covered on its website. The company consulted with students, parents, teachers, developers and other stakeholders when developing the system, which includes "not recommended," "use with caution" and "use responsibly."

When Are Kids Instagram Ready?

Want to be the one to introduce the ins and outs of social media to your kids? Follow the adventures of one parent in doing so in a Well Family post on the New York Times site. And think about the advice the author offers about how to how to have a “social media talk” (akin to the “birds and the bees talk”) with your kids, as well as, ideas for when to create a usage “contract,” monitor use, and remain open to learning from kids about global connectivity.

Identity Theft for Minors a Growing Problem

Does your toddler already have a credit issue? With so many credit bureaus using nothing but social security numbers as the way to verify a person’s identity, they could. Now many young people are finding out the hard way that they have a credit problem, because often someone in their own family used their identity to open credit card and other accounts. This form of identity theft is often not malicious. Sometimes, it’s being done in a pinch by desperate parents who are trying to make an emergency repair or get the lights turned back on. Estranged family members and hackers have also been known to use this means to gain access to credit in another person’s name.

Doing a Finsta

Here is another vocabulary word for your ongoing discussions with your teen about the world of social media, “Finsta.” In the same kind of move that teens have employed for years on Facebook, creating one Facebook page for public consumption and another for their more private revelations, teens who want to post more freely on Instagram start fake, secret accounts known as "Finstas”. This is a combo of the words “fake” and “Instagram.” Teen’s Finsta accounts are typically more unfiltered than their regular Instagram accounts, and are designed to get around those parental and teacher warnings about being careful what you post because school and college administrators, parents, potential employers and others could view it. The term has been around a while but because Instagram seems to be the hotbed of cyberbullying these days, it has surfaced once again.

 

On the positive side, such acts of digital self-surveillance make sense against the backdrop of widespread media coverage of social media gaffes that teens have probably heard about or witnessed. This includes employees losing their jobs after publishing a distasteful image or a tactless tweet, or a teen losing a spot on a sports team, or a school leadership role because of sexually charged or derogatory items they posted online. But at its worst, Finsta accounts warp into a space where anonymous users hide scandalous or sexual behavior or partake in cyberbullying.

 

One other thing that you and your teens should know is that even if what a user posts is part of a private Finsta account with an anonymous username, account creators can be traced back by analyzing followers and Instagram activity. And those seemingly private posts can easily surface online if anyone takes a screenshot or records a video of the content. Once again, it can be very difficult to hide even in the seemingly anonymous online world.

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