Are Parents Overreacting to Online Dangers

The other day, a male friend brusquely stated that the dangers online are overrated. There is very little danger of either strangers grooming kids or offenders befriending kids to win their trust. Even the danger of children getting exposed to inappropriate material is hyped. He was of the opinion that it is in fact adults who keep talking about such dangers and bring it to the notice of kids!

You can surely gauge my reaction to that- shock, followed by utter incredulity! I mean what was this guy saying? That discussion of possible online dangers directs the attention of kids towards inappropriate content? That otherwise they would have never come to know of such issues?

This friend is, thankfully, a bachelor. He can be excused for having such thoughts which encompasses complete freedom for children to do as they please online without any monitoring. For as every parent knows, the world out there is not a bed of roses and children should be gradually prepared to face it-including cyber threats.

The online world is not very different from the real world- the same rules apply in both. But there are three big dangers in the cyber world that’s not there for a kid in the real world.

First, the people in the cyber world are often not what they profess to be. A 14 year old boy can be a 28 year old woman or a 65 year old man. The profile ID is a mask beyond which you cannot see. So if your 14 year old son befriends a boy of his age and plans to meet him up or a 13 year old is smitten by the friendship request from a dashing 17 year old boy, there are chances these people are not who they claim to be.

Second, the cyber world allows the child to venture anywhere, enter any site he pleases and connect with anyone who takes his fancy. There is no fear of the unknown here as the child is navigating safely from a familiar environment. Rather, a child gets the sense of adventure and often becomes daring, believing that he can come to no real harm. This dare at times leads him to forget the safety lessons.

Third, there are many crooks in the cyber world who are involved in hacking of accounts or phishing for data. Both adults and children fall to their tricks. Though global security firms like McAfee are relentlessly trying to identify and remove malware created by them, cyber criminals are improving their techniques and trying out new ways to con people. This may take the shape of a quiz, a survey, an account verification notice, a lottery, a request for a donation, a titillating video etc. Unfortunate victims have often lost their data and/or money to them.

So the cyber world is not a safe place for a kid alone. Just like an unfamiliar city road after dark. Or an isolated hiking trail. Or even a crowded fair. Your children do go downtown, or for a hike or to the fair but ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT. Similarly, when your kids go to cyber world, you need to monitor them till they become mature and responsible enough to identify threats and probable problem areas and steer clear of them. You educate them on safe cyber practices and ensure they surf from a secure internet connection. The keyword is therefore ‘monitoring’. And you do it for their safety.

To keep your kids protected from the cyber criminals, you can use software such as McAfee Total Protection on your PC as well as your laptop. The amazing parental control feature allows you to fix the net surfing timings and site access by age and weekday.

Safe Surfing !

Facebook Graph Search – How To Stay Out Of Its Reach

I am not adverse to new concepts or technology. Rather, I am intrigued and try to discover more about them. Being the inquisitive person that I am, I potter around, try to find out further details and ascertaining whether it could be of use to me or others. So when I heard of Facebook Graph Search, I naturally wanted to know what it means to me. And to other parents, like you dear reader. J

What I found out about Facebook Graph Search is like all things, there’s both a good and bad side. The good side is that it can help one search for like-minded people, people who share similar hobbies, interests and connect with them. This can be fun for mature people to find and form a group of say, hikers, or food bloggers. But where school kids are concerned, I am worried. Though Facebook doesn’t allow kids below 13 to join the social network, children often forge age to do as they please. And therein lies the problem.

Facebook Graph Search is rather intrusive. It collects every little detail you have shared over the years-including your posts, likes, subscriptions, pics and comments and allows your friends and their friends to view them. It collects information from your profile, albums, and posts to help others find you. In that sense, it’s like being put through a scanner with the general public watching the monitor. Your privacy goes for a toss, unless you have stringent privacy settings.

Searches can range from ordinary ones like “people who love baking and live in Bangalore” to this weird one that searches for ‘single women who live nearby and who are interested in men and like getting drunk.” Weird and scary!

Can minors connect with strangers? Facebook says they can, if they have shared their contact info.

How do minors connect with other people?

Like adults, minors can appear in search results. Some things, like their school, address, hometown or birthday may only be visible to their friends, friends of their friends, and/or other minors. Adults and minors can also receive a friend request from someone who is not already a friend of a friend, such as a family relative or a friend with whom they have no mutual friends. Because friend requests may come from adults they don’t know, minors should always be careful when accepting these requests.

Messages are handled differently for minors and adults:

 Minors  Adults
Minors can receive messages from people who are friends of friends and people who have their contact information (ex: email address or phone number). This may include adults they don’t know. Adults can be messaged by anyone on Facebook.

So go to your and your child’s Facebook pages right away and check privacy settings. Simply posting an update asking friends to change their privacy settings for ‘friends’ may not be of much help.

Follow these simple steps to secure your Facebook posts:

1)      Click on ‘Privacy Settings’. Go to more settings. From the left hand side option, click on all one by one and edit settings to either “only me” or “friends” or “custom”. Remember, the more stringent you are, the less are the chances of your details appearing on a graph search.

2)      Activity Log: Check your activity log to hide posts or pics, edit your history and to decide what can be viewed on your Timeline.

3)      Turn off the option of ‘Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?’

4)       Apps: Its desirable to turn off apps for kids as they collect a lot of information on the sly

Right now, we needn’t worry about tools that dig deeper than general info. As Dan Farber says, “Graph Search can help discover shared likes and connections, but at a more granular level, the search engine doesn’t go very deep.”

But there’s one thing we will all do well to remember. Choose your online friends wisely. Give a good thought to who can view your pics and posts. Most times, the cybercriminal, bully or the stalker is a person who knows you and has some scores to settle. What can be an easier option than harming a person’s reputation online or misusing data, all the while remaining anonymous?

And as always, use McAfee Mobile Security for your smartphones to keep your data and your identity safe.