Software Firm Faces Scrutiny

Parents who install a leading brand of software to monitor their kids’ online activities may be unwittingly allowing the company to read their children’s chat messages, and sell the marketing data gathered.

Software sold under the Sentry and FamilySafe brands can read private chats conducted through Yahoo, MSN, AOL and other services, and send back data on what kids are saying about such things as movies, music or video games.

The information is then offered to businesses seeking ways to tailor their marketing messages to kids. “This scares me more than anything I have seen using monitoring technology,” said Parry Aftab, a child-safety advocate. “You don’t put children’s personal information at risk.”

The company that sells the software insists it is not putting kids’ information at risk, since the program does not record children’s names or addresses. But the software knows how old the kids are because parents customize its features to be more or less permissive, depending on age.
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Teach Kids Online Safety

The Internet is not as dangerous a place for children and teens as we previously thought, according to a recent law enforcement task force report. Real threats remain, however, and parents need to educate themselves and their children about online safety and privacy.Norton OnlineFamily

Be aware of Internet safety.
There are six major areas parents need to be concerned about:

  • Amount of overall Internet/computer use
  • Inappropriate websites—violence, pornography, hate groups
  • Internet predators, perhaps posing as children or teens
  • Online abuse and bullying
  • Divulging confidential family information or ID numbers
  • Downloading/installing malicious software

Create a family policy.
Your Internet policy will depend on how old your kids are and what level of individual responsibility you’re willing to grant them. The point is to have a policy.

  • Use parental controls (see below) to enforce the level of safety you’re comfortable with.
  • Ask the child to suggest a reasonable amount of daily computer usage. Reach agreement on this and then hold the child accountable. Renegotiate if necessary—again, the point is to have an agreed standard, not to expect that the limit will never be exceeded.

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