The Official Net Nanny Blog

Connected Toys Are the Weak Security Link

“Internet of Things” and “smart homes” are the latest trends to see a major upswing in the world today.

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Over the last month or so, we have seen a law in California about selling violent video games to minors being upheld as unconstitutional, as well as a veto by Gov. Hunstman of Utah Bill H.B. 353, which also sought to regulate the sale of violent games to minors. The defeat of these attempted measures has clearly left parents with the responsibility to be involved in their childrens video game purchases and playing.

In both of these cases, the voluntary rating system established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was pointed to as a system that is already in place that helps retailers, parents and kids understand what content is found in a particular video game and why the rating has been applied to these games. Nearly 100% of video games sold through retailers today has the ESRB rating clearly printed on the packaging. Responsible parents should learn to use these ratings in the same way they have for movies using the voluntary movie ratings system.

Besides the well known ESRB ratings like E for Everyone, T for Teen, M for Mature, the ESRB goes into greater detail about the content found in the game by using 'Content Descriptors'. Here is a look at what categories these fall into:

Video Game Legislation Defeated in California and Utah

Over the last month or so, we have seen a law in California about selling violent video games to minors being upheld as unconstitutional, as well as a veto by Gov.

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When I speak with parents and teachers about the online phenomena that is cyberbullying, the same question is asked again and again. "What is cyberbullying and how do I know if my child is involved in it?"

While the defintition of cyerbullying is easy, the answer is not.

Cyberbullying.us defines cyberbullying as "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text." While this holds true for the early online technologies like instant messaging, forum boards and chat, this definition has now been broadened to include images, video, audio and other technologies that teens and tweens are using.

A recent trend in cyberbullying is "sexting". Sexting is the electronic exchange of suggestive photos, mostly taken and sent via cell phone. This is a new and alarming issue that needs to be tackled fast and head on. Roughly 20 percent of teens admit to participating in "sexting," according to a nationwide survey (pdf) by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. 

This particular type of cyberbullying snares many victims in its trap. If those involved are under 18, it’s child pornography, and even the girl that posted the pictures can be charged with a federal crime. Sending or sharing the photo to anyone under 18 is also a crime, disseminating pornography to a minor. There is also a very good chance at being labeled a sex offender. At such young ages, those involved in this heinous act don't understand the consequences. But if you think that these crimes are the worst consequence, think again.

The loss of a life due to this type of behavior is the ultimate price that is paid. If you want to know the true effect that hitting that send button and transmitting that inappropriate photo on your phone to a boyfriend or girlfriend has, simply ask Cynthia Logan.

Cynthia Logan's daughter, Jessica Logan took her own life as a result of a nude photo she had sent to her boyfriend. When the couple broke up, the boyfriend forwarded the photo to a group of girls at the same school. These girls "attacked and tortured" Jessica at school regularly, according to Cynthia Logan. The school was not properly equipped to deal with this type of problem and did not take sufficient measures to prevent the harassment.

Because cell phone cameras are so ubiquitous and the current trend of social networking is very integral in the lives of today's youth, this frightening trend is on the rise. Parents and educators now more than ever need to get involved and educate their children about safety and consequences in using everyday technologies, be it on the computer, video game console or cell phone.

Sexting: Dangerous Type of Cyberbullying Claims a Life

When I speak with parents and teachers about the online phenomena that is cyberbullying, the same question is asked again and again.

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I’m not a doctor, a psychiatrist, a counselor or even a religious leader, but I’ve witnessed firsthand how excess and addiction can break families apart and ruin relationships.  I’m not talking specifically about pornography, but anything that may become addictive-- gambling, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gaming, and even shopping.

How does this relate to Net Nanny?  Well, the Internet has become an invaluable source of unlimited information and knowledge; unfortunately for some, it has also augmented the use and availability of unwanted or addictive media.  Here are some creative ways other customers have used Net Nanny to break these bad habits:

The Accountability Buddy:  Install Net Nanny on your computer and have a friend, pastor, counselor, or family member change the password.  Set up email notifications so they know when you visit an inappropriate website and be sure to enable remote reporting so they can regularly view your web activity.  Your accountability buddy will never have to touch your computer because they can manage your settings from anywhere in the world with Net Nanny’s Remote Administration (http://manage.netnanny.com).

Split the Password: This one’s great for friends and couples.  When installing Net Nanny, have one person enter the first half of the password and the second person enter the second half of the password; now neither of you can access Net Nanny without the other person.  Remember, don’t let them see you type and don’t make it obvious to guess.   

Also, Net Nanny has been working closely with Candeo, a company dedicated to fight pornography addiction.  For more about Candeo click here (http://www.candeocan.com).

If you have any other suggestions or ideas please log in and leave a comment below.   

Parents Need Net Nanny Too

I’m not a doctor, a psychiatrist, a counselor or even a religious leader, but I’ve witnessed firsthand how excess and addiction can break families apart and ruin relationships.

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Last month I blogged about how the Australian government's decision to drop the educational NetAlert program and move forward with mandatory ISP filtering would do little to help protect families down under from the dangers on the Internet. 

To the surprise of many, including myself, it appears that the plan "has effectively been scuttled" according the the Sydney Morning Herald.  The fallout appears to come from independent Senator Nick Xenophon's decision to join the Greens and Opposition in blocking any legislation required to get the scheme started.

"The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has consistently ignored advice from a host of technical experts saying the filters would slow the internet, block legitimate sites, be easily bypassed and fall short of capturing all of the nasty content available online," the Morning Herald stated. On the heels of this, Senator Conroy still plans on moving ahead with the trial and even expanding it's scope outside of blocking illegal web site content. Senator Conroy recently said there was "a very strong case for blocking" other legal content that has been "refused classification." According to the classification code, this includes sites depicting drug use, crime, sex, cruelty, violence or "revolting and abhorrent phenomena" that "offend against the standards of morality".

Besides facing opposition from online consumers, lobby groups, ISPs, network administrators, some children's welfare groups, the Opposition, the Greens, NSW Young Labor and even the conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, who famously tried to censor the chef Gordon Ramsay's swearing on television, Senator Conroy faces the toughest battle against the families he believes he is protecting. A poll from 2 weeks ago found that only 5 per cent of Australians want ISPs to be responsible for protecting children online and only 4 per cent want Government to have this responsibility. Parents actuallly want to take responsibility for what content their children consume. 

Parental control?
Imagine that.

Australian ISP Filtering Faces Failure

Last month I blogged about how the Australian government's decision to drop the educational NetAlert program and move forward with mandatory ISP filtering would do little to help protect families...

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A very enlightening analytical report has come out of the European Union, conducted by the Gallup Organization, upon the request of Directorate General Information Society and Media. You can read the full report here.

This survey was designed to study parents views about their children's use of the Internet, to determine parents strategies to supervise their child's Internet usage and their own awareness of safety measures.

Some results of note:

Towards a Safer Use of the Internet for Children in the EU

A very enlightening analytical report has come out of the European Union, conducted by the Gallup Organization, upon the request of Directorate General Information Society and Media.

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In the last feature highlight I focused on SSL and how Net Nanny filters Secure Proxies.  If you need to get caught up you can find more info on that here. For this bulletin I want to discus more about Cyberbullying, Online Predators and how Net Nanny arms parents with the tools to identify and prevent these threats.

Let me start with some educational material and links.  You should first know a little about online predators, who they target, and how they “groom your children. I’ll show you how to prevent and identify these threats toward the end.

Educational links about Online Predators
FBI — A parents guide to Safety: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/protecting-your-kids
MSNBC — To Catch a predator series: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10912603/

Now for Cyberbullies.  Although Cyberbullying is a more recent threat, the consequences can be just as devastating.  Unfortunately, there are far fewer reported cases and even fewer tools available to alert parents of these potential threats.  Spend some time Googling cyberbullies and follow the links below.

Educational links about Cyberbulling
How it works: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/cyberbullying.htm

Now that you know a little more about these threats and how Instant Messaging (IM) and Chat are one of the primary tools that predators and bullies employ.  Here’s how to identify and prevent these threats using Net Nanny.  With the last release of Net Nanny 6.0, we introduced a feature that actually examines the content of each IM conversation and alert you to any potential predatory or cyberbully behavior.  It will flag conversations that contain either sexual or hurtful terms, and if configured send you an email notification immediately.  

You may have a few other concerns, I’ve heard some parents say things like “It’s like my daughter speaks another language when she’s on MSN or Yahoo, it’s in English but I still can’t understand it.  Relax, it’s not an alien life form possessing your child, it’s just a form of slang, shorthand, acronyms, etc...  Remember when you’d confuse your parents by saying things like “That’s Bad! which really meant “That’s Good; this is just payback for driving your parents crazy.  Here’s a link to some commonly used acronyms and terms they use; and don’t worry, we’ve done our homework too and will trigger alerts even for misspelled or slang terms.   

Feature of the Day: Instant Message Alerts

In the last feature highlight I focused on SSL and how Net Nanny filters Secure Proxies. If you need to get caught up you can find more info on that here.

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Over the last couple weeks the Australian government has decided to end the NetAlert program, which was set-up 18 months ago to promote and distribute parental controls and Internet filters to every Australian family for free. That's right, the Australian government initially got it spot on by advocating responsible parenting and a holistic approach to Internet safety that included outreach, education and flexible empowerment tools.  

With the cancellation of the NetAlert program, the current political party has decided instead to introduce mandatory filtering at the ISP level. This has caused great controversy and outcries from down under that include censorship issues from Internet users, degradation of speeds that impact ISP customers, as well as forcing ISPs to become gatekeepers. This isn't sitting well with Telstra BigPond and the other service providers.

The most troubling aspect of the proposed ISP filtering mandate is the false sense of security that parents and educators will get from this. In today's evolving Web 2.0 world, the issues that effect and impact kids go beyond exposure to inappropriate adult or illegal material. Cyberbullying, harassment, sexual predators, phishing, phriending, illegal downloading, gambling and gaming addiction are just a few of the other challenges parents face when attempting to protect and monitor their child's Internet use. The NetAlert program tackled many of these complex issues by providing flexible and customizable desktop filtering clients which assist today's busy parents by filtering and blocking inappropriate content, as well as monitoring and reporting on inappropriate conduct and contacts.

Now, instead of promoting Internet safety and getting schools, parents, and businesses involved in what kids are doing online, the Australian government has instead gone down the path of the "federal firewall" by enacting heavy handed mandates that may stop some already illegal content from being accessed by it's citizens, but at what cost?

Australian Government Exposes Kids to Online Dangers

Over the last couple weeks the Australian government has decided to end the NetAlert program, which was set-up 18 months ago to promote and distribute parental controls and Internet filters...

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As a video game enthusiast I often find myself looking out for and playing the latest video games.  Yes, I played with Atari, ‘Old-School Nintendo’, and of course the modern gaming systems like Xbox, Wii and PS3.  I am often asked by parents if a specific game is appropriate for their kids or if it’s something they can play and enjoy as a family.  My candid response is usually, “Do you know what ESRB or PEGI is?  I continue to explain that almost all games are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board ( ESRB ) or for my European friends the Pan European Game Information (PEGI).  These ratings are usually coupled with information about the game's content.

Learn more about ESRB
Learn more about PEGI

 So, if you haven’t followed the links above to learn more about ESRB and PEGI, you should do that now…I’ll wait…  Now that you’ve done that, I wanted to provide a few tips and suggestions for parents that didn’t spend 12 hours a day playing video games as a kid; it may even help for those that did.  Kids are resourceful, they will get their hands on the games that you don’t want them to play and they will play them all day while you’re at work and all night when you’re sleeping.     

Whether it’s a PC game, Xbox game, Wii game, or PlayStation game, you should know that you can actually limit how often they play, and control the types of games your kids play on these systems.  Aside from good parenting, many of these video game consoles (Xbox, PS3, Wii) have built-in parental controls you can use.  That's usually the hard part, you just have to try and figure out how to use them.  See the links below for more info on those. But the good news is for PC Games you only need to install parental control software.  Coincidentally, Net Nanny 6.0 now gives parents the ability to manage the types of PC Games your kids can play.   So you should be set!  Now you just have to figure out what to do when Johnny goes over to Billy’s house.  

Here are those links I promised:
Xbox 360 Parental controls
PlayStation 3 Parental controls 
Nintendo Wii Parental controls

Video Games Today. Grand Theft What?

As a video game enthusiast I often find myself looking out for and playing the latest video games.

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Today, the Supreme Court said it won't consider reviving the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which lower federal courts struck down as unconstitutional in 2007 and 2008.
 
COPA is a law in the U.S., passed in 1998 with the declared purpose of protecting minors from harmful sexual material on the Internet. COPA was enacted after the Supreme Court struck down a much broader law, the Communications Decency Act of 1996.  The federal courts have since ruled that COPA is in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and therefore have blocked it from taking effect.
 
COPA is not to be confused with Children's Online Privacy Protection Act(COPPA), which is a law that applies to the online collection of personal information by persons or entities under U.S. jurisdiction from children under 13 years of age. It details when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children's privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.
 
The judges who have presided over the appeals, conclude that existing elective filtering technologies and parental controls are less restrictive to free speech than the 'ineffective' and 'overly broad' ban. I couldn’t agree more. If such a law was passed how would it be enforced? Who would enforce it? Who would determine what is ‘decent’ and what content is appropriate for what age?
 
The answer is quite simple. Parents, care-givers, guardians, and teachers are the frontline when it comes to protecting kids online. They need the ‘three-legged stool’ of education, legislation and technology to assist them. Education about the safety issues, solid legislation that is forward thinking and effective, and powerful technology solutions that include filtering, blocking and monitoring of a child’s online activities.
 
While it is important that we protect free speech in the U.S., it is equally important to take responsibility and protect children from harmful and inappropriate content as well. Net Nanny does both.

 

Yesterday, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force(ISTTF)publicly released its report of findings and recommendations for improving online child safety, in particular on social networking sites. I suggest that you head over and read the report yourself.

Kudos goes out to John Palfrey, Faculty Co-Director of The Berkman Center for Internet&Society at Harvard University and the members of the task force for attempting to tackle such a complex and important issue.

I had the opportunity to attend and present to the ISTTF in September 2008, and as I suspected then, the results of the task force do little to nothing to advance the issue of verification and identification of minors online.

The ISTFF concluded in its report, "Enhancing Child Safety&Online Technologies," that online bullying is the top threat to kids on the Internet and not all kids are at equal risk online. It's not the Internet itself, but the child's environment that's a real indicator of their risk, the report says: "Those who are most at risk often engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives. The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.

Another conclusion that is obvious to many of us in the parental controls and Internet filtering industry is that today’s parental empowerment technologies combined with involved and responsible parenting, communication and education is by far the best method for protecting children online today. We understand that parental control software is simply a tool to assist parents in the layered approach to protecting their kids.

The task force could have saved it's valuable time and resources if they had simply read Adam Thierer's book "Parental Controls and Online Child Protection. It is, bar none, the most comprehensive look at today’s technologies and best practices in protecting kids online. It also comes to the same conclusion as the task force.

We need to take the “three-legged stool approach to attacking the issue of online safety and behavior, the legs being education, legislation and technology. Education is the most important. It needs to begin in the home and then we must require our government to take action in school classrooms and build awareness through traditional media. We need solid legislation that is enforceable and is not designed as a “feel good solutions. Lastly, we need to continue to invest in technologies like Net Nanny that continue to focus and keep up with the ever-changing dangers to kids on the Web, be it inappropriate contacts, conduct or content.

Taking the Task Force to Task

Yesterday, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force(ISTTF)publicly released its report of findings and recommendations for improving online child safety, in particular on social networking sites.

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