February 27th, 2012
Today, unless you very carefully limit what you do online, using the Internet almost certainly means using Google services—or at least exposing your activities to Google data collection.
Google operates the most popular search engine in the world. Google’s YouTube is the most widely used video service. Google-powered Android smartphones have the largest market share in the nation. Thousands of websites use Google Analytics to collect user information—information that is shared with Google.
Now Google has announced that it plans to align data collected across its services to develop highly personal profiles of Internet users. Can users opt out? No. Do users have the chance to opt in? No, again. Does this practice represent risk and intrusion for our children and families? Absolutely.
While Google seems determined to run roughshod over American consumers, a group of 36 state Attorneys General has rightly stepped forward to question Google’s actions and request a meeting with Google CEO Larry Page. This is a welcome first step, but it must be followed by action. Google should reverse course and provide real options to consumers—or law enforcement should fulfill its duties to protect adults and children alike.
What is at stake? Google could use the personal profiles that it builds in a number of ways, such as selling data than enables vulnerable children to be identified. Google itself has a history of privacy and security lapses, which makes its unauthorized stewardship of personal data particularly alarming. In addition, if Google sells or leases data to others, this increases the likelihood of a data breach. Many child predators are highly adept at using technology and would be certain to avail themselves of rogue data about children and families.
For young people, particularly teens and tweens, the threat to privacy posed by Android-powered smartphones is particularly concerning. While mobile phones provide security on the one hand, data tracking and even identity theft pose risks on the other. As a dominant operating system and search provider in the smartphone market, Google should be a leader on privacy protection, not privacy exploitation.
In addition to weakening its own privacy policies, Google has also been found to be circumventing privacy policies and functionality of other technologies, notably Apple’s Safari Web browser (first reported in the Wall Street Journal). In addition, last year, Google paid $500 million to settle an investigation about its participation in promoting illegal pharmaceutical sales, which put the public health at risk.
Google’s repeatedly dismissive approach to following consumer privacy and protection laws clearly warrants inquiry—and potentially action—by state and federal authorities.
July 21st, 2010
Last month, Mountain View, CA – based Google, Inc got a lot of attention when it was exposed that their Street View software was collecting unauthorized data from wireless networks. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process by which Google collects images of streets and houses for their Street View program, they have surveillance-equipped vehicles that drive around neighborhoods cataloging geospatial data.
Today Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumethal, on behalf of the Executive Committee for the Multistate Working Group (a 37-state coalition), sent a letter to the Senior Counsel at Google regarding their unauthorized data collection practices that have been revealed as part of their Street View software.
The purpose of the letter was to pose 13 specific questions concerning Google’s practices with regards to Street View. Questions posed include whether or not Google tested the Street View software before it was put into use; which states had network content collected; who wrote the code for the Street View software; and whether or not any of the collected data was ever disclosed to third parties or used for marketing purposes.
In his statement, Attorney General Blumenthal said, “If Google tested this software, it should have known all along that Street View cars would snare and collect confidential data from homes across America. Now the question is how it may have used — and secured — all this private information.”
Google’s practice of collecting unauthorized data, and further claiming that they had no knowledge of the collection or how/why it happened, is disturbing. However, we commend Attorney General Blumenthal and the other 37 states for stepping in and demanding that vital questions regarding consumer’s privacy be answered. Hopefully, by the July 23 deadline established by Blumenthal, American citizens will get a better answer than “it was a mistake.”
July 20th, 2010
“Best Practices” Online Safety Panel at Tomorrow’s IGF-USA Event
by Braden Cox on July 20, 2010
Internet governance is often thought of as ICANN and domain names, but the Internet Governance Forum, a body of the UN, takes a broad approach. Tomorrow I’ll be speaking on a panel about online safety at IGF-USA, a national body that reports to the full IGF. We’ll discuss the recent NTIA OSTWG “Youth Safety on a Living Internet” report, among other online safety issues such as sexting, cyberbullying, and proposed state legislation. To read the entire article click here.
April 6th, 2010
Guest post by: Linda Criddle, president of Safe Internet Alliance
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Ad Council have partnered to develop a new public service announcement video to help teens understand the consequences of posting and sharing personal or sexually explicit content. The new video extends their already successful “Think Before You Post” campaign to include an interactive online video letting users “choose” what happens after being sent a request for a nude photo.
This video is a great resource, particularly because it doesn’t preach, but rather lets the user come to their own realization of consequences and what they can – and can’t – control.
In introducing this new video, the Ad Council points to recent research conducted by Microsoft, Online Reputation in a Connected World, that illustrates how far reaching the effects of rash decisions can be, and that highlights the need for, and urgency of, getting this message out to youth.
The Safe Internet Alliance congratulates both NCMEC and the Ad Council for great work that will be a great benefit to youth, and those seeking to help youth navigate the net.
March 26th, 2010
NEW! Parental Controls Product Guide: 2010 Edition
Guest post by: Linda Criddle, president of Safe Internet Alliance
GetParentalControls.org has just released their new Parental Controls Product Guide: 2010 Edition, and they’ve done an excellent job. Written by David Burt, it provides a comprehensive view of the available parental control options to help you understand what tools will work best for your family and kids. A quick review of the topics covered (see Table of Contents below), and you’ll see the breadth of information provided in the guide. Of particular interest may be the overview of mobile phone safety management options as few parents are familiar with these choices.
Table of Contents
What are Parental Controls?
An Overview of Parental Controls: Internet, Mobile Phones, Gaming Consoles, and Media Players
What parental controls do I need?
- Up to 7 years old
- Age 8 to 10 years old
- Age 11 to 13 years old
- Age 14 to 17 years old
Internet Parental Controls Product Comparisons
- Internet Parental Controls Product Comparison
- ISP Provided Parental Controls Product Comparison
- E-mail Parental Controls Product Comparison
- Social networking Parental Controls Product Comparison
- Instant Messaging Parental Controls Product Comparison
- Search Engine Parental Controls Product Comparison
- Virtual Worlds Parental Controls Product Comparison
- Video and Photo Sharing Sites Parental Controls Product Comparison
- Kid Safe Browsers Product Comparison
Mobile Phone Parental Controls
Gaming Console Parental Controls
Media Player Parental Controls
Using Parental Controls to Address Specific Safety Issues: Cyberbullying, Sexting, Privacy, and Predators
Internet Parental Controls Reviews
Kid Safe Brower Reviews
My only objection to this otherwise excellent product guide is the title. Though most products in this category call themselves parental controls and the term is widely used, it implies a power dynamic that’s a very negative approach to what should be positive and nurturing family safety settings.
March 15th, 2010
By Stacie Rumenap
In a few days, the FCC will release its’ National Broadband Plan to bring high-speed Internet to all Americans. Chairman Julius Genachowski is hopeful that by working together, we’ll come up with innovation and technology-based solutions to empower parents and protect our children. Stop Internet Predators couldn’t agree more.
When FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined last week how the new National Broadband Plan will benefit children and empower families, he reminded parents to think about the differences between today and when they grew up…how families of his generation probably had one television in the living room, and how watching a favorite band on the Ed Sullivan Show was a weekend highlight.
Today, however, is a whole new world, filled with many more screens that can bring along powerful opportunities even if they do bring along dangers and pitfalls. Families no longer gather around their one television screen to watch the news. Instead, today’s households are equipped with multiple televisions, computers, cell phones and gaming systems that allow us to connect to one another and worlds we didn’t know existed even 15 years ago.
As such, Genachowski made several compelling arguments that technology and safety should and can go hand-in-hand:
- First, children are our most precious national resource who deserve to be educated and prepared to navigate today’s digital world.
- Second, empowering parents is an essential strategy in keeping kids safe online.
- Third, the government has an appropriate, but limited
, role to play.
- Fourth, the First Amendment is a core American value that must be honored even in a digital world.
- Fifth, markets have untapped potential to drive innovative solutions. Therefore, government and consumers shouldn’t attempt to slow down technology, but should instead pursue strategies to unleash technology solutions to technology-related problems.
High-speed Internet and digital technology allow new ideas and creations to be shared with anyone. It spreads opportunity farther, faster, and more equitably than any other medium. For our children, the Internet has the potential to improve every aspect of their lives.
Consider education. With online learning, kids anywhere can have access to the best teachers in the world, and access to up-to-date e-textbooks and high-quality tutoring. Studies show that low-income children who use the Internet more at home have higher GPAs and standardized test scores than children who use it less.
But of course these new technologies also expose children to new dangers from harassment to online predators.
A recent Kaiser study found that children consume recreational media more then 7 hours a day and are consuming nearly 11 hours worth of content. When the same study came out in 2004 and reported 6 hours of daily media consumption, experts said it was impossible for the number to go higher. If you’re a parent of a teen with a cell phone who can send texts faster than the blink of an eye, you know all too well that number will only go higher which leaves many parents asking if they should embrace new technologies or worry about them.
The answer is both, and ensuring children have access to broadband—pitfalls and all—should be a goal.
Stacie Rumenap is president of Stop Child Predators, a national non-profit organization that combats the sexual exploitation of children and protects victims. For more information, visit www.stopchildpredators.org.
February 3rd, 2010
By Amy Thienel
When I was in 6th grade, my best friend from elementary school “broke up” with me—apparently, I was too nerdy for her liking—which consisted of her spreading rumors to anyone who would listen. Mostly, she said mean things about me. Luckily, my middle school taunts were limited to the playground. Not so for today’s tweens and teens as bullies have taken to the Internet, where their ridicule can be seen by anyone with an Internet connection and can last a lifetime.
Cyberbullying is so bad that Internet safety seems to be on the mind of every parent, politician, and media personality these days. Indeed, recent stories detail the horrific impact that online peer-to-peer aggression can have on the lives of young people. These incidents are terrifying for any parent and teen alike.
Take for instance the story of Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old girl who moved to Massachusetts from a small town in Ireland only to commit suicide after several of her classmates harassed her about everything from her accent to teen love on Facebook and through text messages. Even after Phoebe’s tragic death, her tormentors left disparaging comments about her on a Facebook memorial page.
Sadly, such incidents are not a rarity. Just last month, 15 middle school students in Oklahoma were suspended after joining “I Hate” groups on Facebook that targeted a particular sixth-grader at their school. In Washington State, 28 students were suspended in a similar case.
A 2008 study conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center found that out of approximately 2000 middle school students surveyed, over 43% were victims of cyberbullying. So it’s no wonder that parents and educators are desperate to help children navigate the Internet safely but often feel they lack the skills to do so.
New websites and publications have come to the rescue. CyberBully411.com is dedicated to combating cyberbullying and Internet harassment. Last week, SCP President Stacie Rumenap attended a forum about online reputations, in which Federal Trade Commission staffer Nat Wood talked about the affects on people’s lives as they share more of their lives online through social networking sites, blogs and other online services, and how that phenomenon makes it more important than ever for parents to have the necessary tools to help protect their kids from cyberbullying and other online threats. Wood touted the FTC’s newest guide, Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids about Being Online. A must-have resource for parents, Net Cetera includes information and advice about talking to children and teenagers about staying safe online, protecting their private information, texting, social network etiquette and more.
Remember parents, talk to your children about Internet etiquette—it just might save your 6th grader the embarrassment brought on by a would-be cyberbully.
About Stop Child Predators
Stop Child Predators is a national non-profit organization that brings together a team of policy experts, law enforcement officers, community leaders, and parents to persuade state and federal lawmakers to enact policies to combat the sexual exploitation of children, and promote and protect the rights of victims.
January 13th, 2010
As media outlets report that Super Bowl entertainer Pete Townshend of The Who was a once-registered sex offender in the U.K., a couple of items come to light: 1.) Most Americans did not know about Townshend’s sex offender status; 2.) They are furious that the NFL would hire Townshend for the primo family show of the year.
The NFL and halftime sponsor Bridgestone, however, are standing behind their man, and support Townshend’s “research” excuse he used when he was caught accessing and paying for online child pornography. Even so, the NFL and its Super Bowl sponsors have been sent disclosure documentations from our over-seas friends at Child AbuseWatch that leave them in no doubt as to Townshend’s confession of guilt which earned him his sex offender status. That leaves them in the position of knowingly hiring a sex offender.
Of course, if sponsors decided not to support the NFL’s choice of “entertainment,” the NFL would be forced to drop Townshend from the line-up, a decision that should come as relief to parents everywhere.
On a side note, a registered sex offender—past or present—cannot land a job even as a groundskeeper at Land Shark Stadium under usual circumstances…it will be interesting to see just how serious stadium officials are about enforcing their own guidelines to help keep kids safe.
Townshend’s worries are also growing, despite any support he may receive today. Florida has strict laws about the treatment of anyone with a sex offender record and requires such individuals to register when entering the state.
Law enforcement has been notified of Townshend’s arrival in hopes that local officials at the State Department, Homeland Security or Immigration and Customs Enforcement will revoke Townshend’s visa due to his criminal record.
Even the attorney general has been asked to consider apprehending Townshend at the South Florida airport, or at any time during his stay. After all, Townshend could potentially be taken into custody to face charges of paying for child pornography in Texas, the state where the child porn website was based when he used his credit card to access the images in 2003.
Regardless, this time of year is marked by cold season. Perhaps Mr. Townshend will suddenly come down with something that would prevent him from traveling to the U.S. and that could possibly help salvage his reputation, if there is anything left salvaging.
For more information on Pete Townshend’s sex offender status, please read http://www.gopusa.com/commentary/guest/2009/sdr_12101.shtml
November 18th, 2009
A recent case involving a Texas man allegedly forcing his 8 and 9-year-old daughters to watch online pornography has prompted Texas officials and parents to fight a state law that allows parents to show their children “harmful material.”
The law was originally created in the 1970s in order to protect parents who wanted to teach their children about sex education. As written, the law specifically says that parents can’t be prosecuted for showing “harmful material” to their children, but doesn’t set boundaries as to what constitutes such harmful material. Thus, the door is left open for potential abuse. In the aforementioned case, the incident came to light after one of the girls told a school counselor that her father made her and her sister watch an online video of group sex.
The mother of the children is upset that nothing can be done about her ex-husband’s actions. She’s spreading awareness about the law in hopes of changing it, recognizing that she herself wasn’t aware of the law until she tried to have her ex arrested.
With the rapid rise in the number of children with access to the Internet, parents owe it to their kids to teach them about the potential pitfalls of the world wide web, not lure them to danger.
The Internet is filled with images that children should not be exposed to, even under the supervision of their parents. For example, child pornography has become so common on the Internet it has turned into a multi-billion dollar commercial enterprise. In the decade since the FBI launched a 1996 initiative to combat online child pornography and exploitation, the number of such cases jumped by over 2,000 percent. It’s also estimated that some child pornography websites receive more than one million visits in a single month and that victims are becoming younger and the images more graphic and violent.
Let’s not forget that the broad audience for child pornography drives up the demand for child pornography to be produced—and in turn, the demand for children to be molested in front of cameras or live audiences.
Worse, showing any type of porn to kids is a common “grooming” practice of pedophiles that desensitizes victims and makes them less likely to resist further advances. This type of grooming is widely considered by child advocates to be as abusive as actual contact abuse.
Of course, sexual education is an important and laudable goal. And parents ought to have the right to teach their children about sex in privacy without fear of persecution or prosecution. But the same law that protects the privacy rights of parents also needs to protect children from exposure to dangerous or harmful content. So while no one is accusing this Texas father of sexually abusing his daughters, let’s hope the state legislature better clarifies the intent of the law and helps protect families from this type of abuse in the future. Such action is necessary to adapt the law to better fit today’s Internet hungry environment and to better protect each and every child.
View the original blog post by clicking here.
October 15th, 2009
The growth of the internet—including broadband and wireless access—has the unfortunate side effect of putting children at potential risk. For the most part, the connections our kids make on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace allow teens the opportunity to connect to other teens from around the world—something that would not have been possible just a few years ago.