Sunday, March 09, 2008
FTC pamphlet: guide for parent(s) on Internet safety
The Federal Trade Commission does have a leaflet “FTC Facts for Consumers: Social Networking Sites: A Parent’s Guide.”
Notice, first, that the work “parent” is singular. Anyway, the pamphlet does give some recommendations that serve response.
First, they are right, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) does regulate the collection of information about minors, and this has not been controversial.
The FTC recommends keeping the family computer (or at least any computer with kids’ access) in an open area. That sounds like the safest thing to do. However, the Internet can be a valuable aid to school work when used properly. (That says a lot: there are other issues that concern teachers, such as plagiarism). If a student is mature enough and in advanced courses in high school, it seems like it ought be all right to let him or her have more control of access. I’m reminded of a cereal commercial where a middle school kid is looking up Shakespeare on a computer on a family kitchen table and the kid says to his father, “You had it easy. I had to write a report.” And he had six weeks to do it. The father chuckles.
A more serious concern is the possibility of kids giving out personal information. The most obvious danger is on social networking profiles. Personal information could endanger other family members, too. Nevertheless, the risk is reduced if parents practice good home and auto security, and watch their own credit and financial affairs properly. The practical reality is that many parents don’t do this, and that many companies and financial institutions have been careless about verifying identities of people they make loans to. The FTC warns that kids can even give away personal information with unwisely constructed screen names.
Social networking sites allow profiles to be made private, and generally require that for kids under 16; teens should certain start out with whitelisted profiles and a known audience, although even that sometimes leads to unwanted disclosure of private information.
Parents should definitely monitor the postings of kids, at least until they are mature enough. They should also monitor email. It takes a certain amount of judgment to learn to recognize spam, scams, and illegitimate communications. Even some parents do not know how to recognize these the way more experiences users do.
Of course, they should also regulate their kids’ use of chat rooms. We all know what some of the dangers are, given the recent sensational NBC Dateline series with Chris Hansen. (I won’t describe the details here.) There seems to be little legitimate reason for kids to own webcams and keep them near family computers, unless the family or kids are involved in making legitimate videos. (Yes, the Hotz family made appropriate use of home-generated video when the teen brothers made some informative films about how to unlock certain kinds of cell phones; look at this, Aug. 26.
Larger ISP’s offer kids’ accounts, with the ability of parents to regulate what sites their kids can visit, at different ages and levels of intellectual and social maturity.
A whole generation that has become accustomed to the potential for “instant fame” on the Internet, and this seems particularly attractive to teenagers and college students. Our culture has allowed and encouraged this, without requiring the training or maturity that normally goes with publication of things – understanding of copyright, trademark, libel, privacy invasion, and now the amorphous concepts of “implicit content” and “reputation defense.”
The pamphlet names a number of organizations and websites.:
Internet Keep Safe Coalition
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
National Crime Prevention Council
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use (blog).
I have some discussions of "reputation defense" on other blogs. A major discussion occurs here on the January 28, 2008 entry.