Archive for the ‘Internet Safety’ Category

Online Safety 3.0: From Fear to Empowerment

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Larry Magid’s presentation at CUE 2012 (Computer Using Educators) Annual Conference, March 17, 2012

How To Control Facebook App Privacy

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

by Larry Magid

Facebook is more than a social network. It’s also a platform that allows independent developers to create applications, or “apps” that greatly expand what the service can offer. Games, including social games like  Words with Friends, are very popular, but there are also education apps, photo sharing apps, apps to share interesting reading material, music apps and much more.

To operate properly, many of these apps need information from your profile and some need (or at least want) the ability to post on your behalf. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because, by accessing or sharing information, these apps can enhance your social experience. But, it’s important to understand and exercise control over what information apps can use and how using apps can impact your experience on Facebook.  Fortunately Facebook does give users a lot of control, and has ways to limit what apps can do, and ways to remove apps you don’t like or no longer find useful.  And, parents, please heed the advice of my co-director Anne Collier by not only advising kids on how to control their own apps, but serving as a role model by showing them you’re doing it too.

What apps can do

What an app can do and what information it needs depends on the app’s purpose. If it’s an app that sends out birthday greetings to your friends, for example, it makes sense for it to know who your friends are and their birthdates and, of course to be able to send out a greeting. Other apps have different functions and different default permissions, which can include, among other things, access to your basic information, the ability to post to your timeline and newsfeed on your behalf, your location, and access to information people share with you.

Controlling apps permissions

As you install an app you can control what information it can access and what it can do, but you can also edit that information (i.e. take away permissions) at any time as follows:

  • Click on the down arrow in the upper right corner of any page
  • Select Privacy Settings
  • Scroll down to Apps and Websites and click Edit Settings
  • That will display your most recently used apps but not necessarily all your apps.

    Click Edit Settings from this screen to control all your apps
  • To see and edit all your apps, click Edit Settings in the gray box to the right of where it says how many apps you’re using.
  • Find the app you want to control and click Edit (to the right).

For example, this app from SoundCloud has permission to post on my behalf to my timeline, newsfeed or ticker,  but I can take away that permission by clicking on the X to the right of any permission I wish to remove. It’s also possible to limit who can see the posts it makes on my behalf by clicking on the current setting (Friends, in this illustration) and changing it. You can even select “Only me,” which still lets the app post (so you have a record of its history) but only you can see it.

Facebook lets you edit apps' permissions at any time

For more on Facebook privacy see A Parents’ Guide to Facebook from

This short video, prepared by Facebook, demonstrates how to control app privacy.

Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook.

A good start on digital privacy

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

This post appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on February 27, 2012

by Larry Magid

I might be overly optimistic, but I hope this will be remembered as the month digital privacy rights finally started to become real.

Last Wednesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced an agreement with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion that would require app developers to abide by California’s existing privacy law and disclose their privacy policies in plain language before users download their apps. On Thursday, the Obama administration released a report calling for a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.”

Although late to the game, these initiatives came at an opportune time. As I mentioned in last week’s column, we have had a spade of privacy invasions lately, including an incident where a popular smartphone app was uploading entire user contact lists to its servers without notification or permission.

Part of the problem is that consumers have been left in the dark. Just like software running on a PC, an app running on a smartphone can do anything it’s programmed to do, and there are very few people who have the technical expertise to peer under the hood to figure out exactly what the app is doing.

So the only way the average consumer can know what information an app is collecting and what it’s doing with that data is for the app developer to tell them. But not all app developers post privacy policies. And even those that do often don’t put them in plain language and make them accessible to consumers at the point of download.

The situation is not better for apps aimed at children. On Feb. 16, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report titled “Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures Are Disappointing.” It found that, “In most instances, staff was unable to determine from the information on the app store page or the developer’s landing page whether an app collected any data, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose for such collection, and who … obtained access to such data.”

Tracking cookies

There’s also that pesky issue of third-party tracking cookies that ad networks like Google’s DoubeClick use to follow you around the Web so they can target you with ads based on sites you’ve visited. That issue raised its head again last week after the Wall Street Journal reported that Google was going around technology built into Apple’s Safari browser to block third-party tracking.

Microsoft later claimed that Google was also defeating its cookie blocking system. Google responded that it was only doing that for users who were signed in and that, “It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”

The current state of affairs is actually bad for all stakeholders. While being able to sneak a few targeted ads past consumers might put some extra money in the coffers of Internet advertising companies, it also erodes consumer confidence. If stories like the ones we’ve been bombarded with lately continue to dominate the news, consumers are likely to start shying away from using some of these technologies or employ third-party blocking tools, which could cause additional problems for advertisers and app companies.

Privacy a fundamental right

Also, as the Obama administration’s report pointed out, deceptive privacy practices are downright un-American. OK, I exaggerate. But in the report’s opening statement, President Barack Obama made the point that “From the birth of our republic, we assured ourselves protection against unlawful intrusion into our homes and our personal papers.” Long before the Internet, he reminded us, “we set up a postal system to enable citizens all over the new nation to engage in commerce and political discussion,” and “Congress made it a crime to invade the privacy of the mails.” I’m sure that Benjamin Franklin, America’s first Postmaster General, would agree that that’s a pretty good precedent.

The so-called “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” the White House plans to send to Congress for passage would provide for individual control over our personal data along with transparency — the “right to easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices.” It also calls for “respect for context,” so consumers can expect companies to collect and use personal information in context for the purposes that it’s needed. The rights also include secure and responsible handing of data, consumer access to our own data, reasonable limits on the use of our data and accountability that companies are adhering to this bill of rights.

What the proposed rights lack is specificity. The administration calls them “general principles that afford companies discretion in how they implement them.” This flexibility, said the White House, “will help promote innovation.”

The administration is encouraging Congress to provide both the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general with the authority to enforce the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Next, I assume, comes a series of hearings on Capitol Hill, where legislators will pounce on evil companies for forcing the government to take a strong stand and companies will extoll the virtues of self-regulation.

Some would call self-regulation the fox guarding the chicken coop, while others would brand heavy-handed government rules as stifling innovation. I call on Congress to conduct this important discussion calmly, rationally, clearly and openly so that the rest of us can both listen-in and weigh-in.

For more

Anne Collier (my co-director) on privacy tipping point

My interview with California Attorney General Kamala Harris on app data privacy

Kony 2012: A Lesson in Critical Thinking

Monday, March 12th, 2012

It seems that just about everyone is talking about the Kony 2012 video that’s received more than 70 million views since it was posted last week.  It’s part of a campaign by the non-profit group Invisible Children to bring awareness to the evil deeds of rebel leader Joseph Kony who’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been terrorizing Ugandans and people in Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan since the 1980s. “Kony stands accused of overseeing the systematic kidnapping of countless African children,” goes the film’s narration, “brainwashing the boys into fighting for him, turning the girls into sex slaves and killing those who don’t comply.”

The video, which features the group’s co-founder Jason Russell trying to find ways to explain Kony’s atrocities in an age-appropriate way to his very young son, is compelling and moving. It ends with a three point call to action: 1. “Sign the Pledge to Show Your Support;” 2. “Get the Bracelet and the Action Kit” (for ); and 3. “Sign Up to Donate a Few Dollars a Month.”

The group is appealing to young people and, from what I can see on Facebook and Twitter, it seems to have garnered quite a bit of support from youth.  In some ways I’m pleased. It’s great to see young people engaging with issues beyond their immediate lives and thinking about the plight of other youth thousands of miles away.  But, as has been pointed out in numerous articles and videos, the group has many critics. As the Washington Post reported, some experts argue that the crimes of the LRA “have been exaggerated and the attention they are receiving is disproportionate,” while others say that Kony and his group are indeed despicable international criminals but that there are many more effective campaigns to stop him, including some that have been working on the ground for many years. Others argue that the video and the campaign represent a “white savior” approach to the problems of Africa as the New York Times reported.

I’m not going to repeat what’s in the countless number of articles about this film (you can find them by searching Google News for Kony), but after reading several of them, it’s pretty clear that the issue is not as simple as depicted in the film and that Invisible Children — while deservedly getting credit for raising awareness — is not necessarily the best place to donate if you want to help the children of Africa. If you scroll down, you’ll see a video of Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire who has major problems with Russell’s video. “He plays so much that this war has been going on because millions of Americans are ignorant about it, but this is not entirely true.” She also says that “the situation has improved in Northern Uganda and that it’s about conflict recovery right now.” And, she reminds us, “this is another video where you see an outsider trying to be a hero rescuing African children … it does not end the problem.”

Lessons for kids and parents

Which leads to the issue of critical thinking and media literacy.  As an Internet safety advocate, I’ve been saying for years that one of the most important skills that young people (and older ones too) need is the ability to think critically about what they see online. Whether that’s a pitch from a company, an invitation to meet up with an appealing stranger or even a news items or an opinion piece from a pundit like me, it’s important to look beyond the page — or in Kony’s case the video. Use a search engine and whatever other tools you have to learn more about anything that you’re on the verge of buying into. Ask your online friends but also consult as many expert sources as you can.  There is often more than one side to a story and even well intentioned campaigns by decent people can have nuances worth exploring.

Parents can use this as an opportunity to talk with their child about a variety of things ranging from how great it is to get involved in issues to how important it is to do your homework before signing an online (or printed) petition, donating money, showing up at a demonstration or supporting a politician who’s rhetoric may be initially appealing.  For a thoughtful parent’s reaction, see this post from my co-director Anne Collier who viewed the video with her 14-year-old son.

Investigating charities

One way to check out a charity is at Charity Navigator, which rates charities on a variety of criteria. The site often shows data from the group’s Form 990 tax return which shows that Invisible Children raised more than million from the general public between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011.  Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children a 3 (out of 4) Stars for as an overall rating but only 2 stars for Accountability and Transparency with a score of 45, compared to 70 for the American Red Cross and 59 for the American Heart Association, just to give two examples. Its founders salaries were between ,000 and ,000 which is not at all high for an organization of its size and impact, but it’s not clear if they received other compensation (such as speaking fees or payment for services) besides their salaries.


The first video is critique from Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire, Scroll down (or click next page) for a general response from the CEO of Invisible Children

Thank you, KONY 2012 Supporters from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo.

PBS Kids Uses Smart Phones & Tablets To Make Kids Smarter: Releases New Apps

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

All Aboard the Dinosaur Train is a new iPad app from PBS Kids

Just about every parent in America knows about PBS Kids. They’re the folks who bring shows like Sesame Street, Curious George and Arthur to TV sets.  But PBS also has smart phone, tablet and web apps for kids 2-8.

At  the giant South by Southwest Interactive (SxSw) geekfest in Austin on Friday, the non-profit media organization released two new titles:   All Aboard the Dinosaur Train! for iPad and Dinosaur Train Camera Catch! for iPhone.

All About the Dinosaur Train teaches math and spacial awareness. “The problem,” as it says in the download page on the Apple app store, “is that dinosaurs come in different sizes, so your child needs to match your passengers with the right train cars, challenging them to problem-solve by estimating dinosaur sizes and comparing them with the train cars’ capacity.”

When playing Dinosaur Train Camera Catch! (for iPhone), kids have to snap pictures of flying dinosaurs in a designated pattern, which build pattern recognition skills, not to menton hand-eye coordination.

Dinosaur Train Camera Catch! for iPhone teaches pattern recognition

Although many PBS Kids apps are free, the two new ones cost .99, but PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) are making them available for free to Head Start centers, local PBS stations, and other organizations in low-income communities.

An October, 2011 study  from Common Sense Media, predictably, found an “app gap” based on socio-economic status. The study found that 27%  of lower-income families have a parent with a smartphone, compared to 57% for higher-income children with similar gaps for tablets and hand-held media players like the iPod Touch. Of course, providing free software doesn’t put hardware in kids’ hands but, increasingly schools and Head Start programs are providing tablets and other devices for kids to use.

Also, many PBS Kids games can be played (for free) via the web both at home and at schools equipped with smart boards.

Being Kind to One Another

Friday, March 9th, 2012

With so much happening in online safety, it can be hard at times to know who to highlight. This is not one of those times.

Two girls have partnered to spearhead an initiative to get teenage girls to simply be nicer to each other – and the campaign is aptly named KIND.

According to the website, Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson, both affected by female bullying, decided to create a documentary and non-profit that would ultimately change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across America. The girls have gone on three national tours, spreading their school assembly program and documentary film in hundreds of schools and communities across the country.

Their campaign has produced a magazine, school programs, a documentary, as well as a national team of “Kind Girls” who are committed to spreading the message of kindness to other girls across the nation and the globe. The website features a blog, a tour guide called “Kind Country” where folks can catch up on the latest talks, showings, and programs, as well as media and store with merchandise to support the movement.
Check out to see what the movement is all about and how you might be able to participate.

Share This | No comments Blog

Lady Gaga On Right Track With Youth Empowerment and Kindness

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

This post is adapted and expanded from one that appeard in the San Jose Mercury News on March 5, 2012

by Larry Magid

There has been a lot of work over the past few years to combat online and offline bullying. Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has been providing great resources for years. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network has helped raise awareness around bullying, and the White House last year hosted an anti-bullying summit attended, by both the President and the First Lady.

But Michele Obama isn’t the only famous “lady” working to combat bullying. At Harvard University, Lady Gaga last week launched a foundation to encourage kindness, empower youth and inspire bravery.

Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, launched the Born This Way Foundation with help from Oprah Winfrey, who conducted one of her TV-style interviews with Gaga.

It would be easy to dismiss Lady Gaga as yet another celebrity embracing a cause, — after all combating bullying has become quite popular lately.  But after watching her dive deeply into the issues, it’s clear that she brings a lot more to the party than just her fame, influence and wealth. She knows what it means to be different and to be ridiculed by peers. Before she became a superstar, she was a geeky teenaged musician amongst a peer group who thought her odd and out-of-place.  When she first started speaking publicly about bullying last year some of her messaging was out of touch with recommendations of many experts. But, as I explain later, she’s now paying attention to the research.

To her credit, Oprah was upbeat and positive and avoided some of the fear messages that she sometimes used on her syndicated TV show to punctuate a point. Fear and exaggeration almost never inspire people to make lasting or meaningful changes and, as Lady Gaga knows from her own fans, most kids don’t bully. She may call her young fans “little monsters,” but it’s a term of endearment. She knows that they’re mostly great kids.

The launch was less about bullying and more about empowering young people to be kind and brave and to support each other.

Not blaming tech

I was pleased that in addition to refraining from exaggerating the prevalence of bullying or overdramatizing the results, no one perpetuated the myth that technology is severely endangering young people. Gaga commented that “people think that cyberbullying is like the major thing that’s happening right now and truthfully it’s really not. It’s the most visible because you can copy and past something and view it. But the worst bullying that you can experience is face to face on the street, in school.”

She’s right. A recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that in-person bullying is more common than any form of cyberbullying. Besides, cyberbullying is simply bullying that takes place on phones and online. Research shows that kids who are cyberbullied are often bullied by the same kids at school. Technology is no longer something special — it’s woven into the fabric of young people’s lives, so it’s pretty much impossible to separate “cyber’ bullying from school-based aggression and meanness.

She brought a village

Also on stage were the mind-body healing guru Deepack Chopra, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen G. Sebelius, University of Nebraska Psychology Professor Susan Swearer , high school student Alyssa Rodemeyer, reporter and gay parent David Burtka and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, who all interviewed Lady Gaga in what amounted to a mock trial, which was fitting in that it took place in an auditorium that reminded me of the classroom from the movie “Paper Chase.”

The launch followed a day-long symposium at the Harvard Law School, where about 90 of the world’s best minds on bullying, youth risk, media and education addressed a variety of issues. I participated in the session on school culture and climate. There were also sessions on law and policy, evaluation and assessment, classroom-based curricula and media campaigns.

My co-director Anne Collier co-led a session on peer driven initiatives that featured young people whose voices are too often left out of these discussions. Each of the working groups made specific recommendations, including action items, for the foundation to consider.  Experts working with the Berkman Center put together some useful working papers ahead of the launch to provide an overview on bullying and meanness along with some excellent tips. Harvard also hosted a youth conference were Lady Gaga made an appearance.

It helps that Lady Gaga is paying attention to experts, including  danah boyd of Microsoft Research who provided her team with research materials in advance of the launch. Boyd and Berkman Center co-director John Palfrey, serve as advisers to Gaga’s foundation.

Minor quibbles

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. I disagreed with her response to Swearer, who said educators need to get involved in combating bullying. “I don’t think that works,” responded Lady Gaga, adding “I don’t think teachers give a shit a lot of the time.” She thinks the solution is youth intervention and she’s partially right. But it really does take a village, and that village must includes kids along with teachers, parents, law enforcement, counselors, the media, politicians and everyone else.

I also thought Lady Gaga was a naïve when she said, “I believe it will be quite easy to change the world,”  but it was a sweet thought when she elaborated that if everyone were nice to others, it would happen over time. Yet I was impressed by most of what she had to say, including, “We have to work from the ground up and create a climate and an environment in schools where someone that feels self conscious has someone walk up to them in the middle of class and say ‘I really like your essay’. Little acts of kindness, these are the things that will change culture.”

Not looking to the law

And I agree with Lady Gaga that passing new laws won’t solve the problem. If a law would work, she said, “I’d be chained naked to a fence somewhere trying to pass it.” I, too, would support a law if I ever found one that could truly make a difference. But I’d keep my clothes on.

For more

Anne Collier’s From Born This Way to Move This Way: A new foundation

Stephen Carrick-Davies’ Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation: Are We Born To Be Brave?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s Born to Not Get Bullied – based on an interview with Gaga

Video: Lady Gaga performs Born This Way

Note: Lady Gaga is a provocative entertainer whose work  inspires many but offends some people. If you have very young children, consider screening it first for yourself before playing for them so you can make up your own mind.

FOSI Qatar Conference: Child online protection involves tensions between regulation and free flow of information

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

by Larry Magid

I’m in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar for a two-day conference where representatives of government, non-profits and businesses from throughout the Middle East will join their counterparts from other regions to discuss “Promoting Online Safety and Cyber Ethics in the Middle East.”

The conference began with a discussion between Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) CEO Stephen Balkam and  former U.S. ambassador David Gross who took delegates on a walk down memory lane about the history of Internet regulation in the U.S. and Europe.

David Gross

Balkam asked Gross to comment on the tension between the tendency to want to regulate the Internet vs wanting to promote free speech.

“Every parent naturally as a matter of biology as well as intellect want to protect children,” said Gross. “A lot of these issues are variations of an old theme with each country wanting to make its decisions in their own way based on their own culture.”

But what’s different is that kids are often more tech savvy than adults. “The extraordinary and maybe unprecedented twist is that technology and internet related technology seems to be more intuitive for young people than the adults who who are making the rules.”

Gross said that the Internet does not lend itself to being heavily regulated by government but instead “a more organic multi-stakeholder which includes government but also schools, parents, non-governmental organizations and corporations “coming together to field their way through it.”

Changes over time

Gross pointed out that the difference between the nineties and now “is that the issues are more complex thanks in part to cloud computing and the rise of international companies like Google and Microsoft.  Also, the discussion, which used to be between Europe and the U.S. is now “a conversation that is truly global which means that the complexities have gone up enormously. Instead of two players you now have 100+ players,” he said.

Recognizing cultural differences among countries, Gross does not advociate a one-size-fits all policy.  “Ultimately there are going to have to be accommodations and how these things get resolved will fundamentally determine the economic well being of many countries.” While this may seem daunting, he’s optimistic that it can be worked out. “With technology and clever policy making everyone will be able to live within their own set of rules.”

New opportunties

In the past, said Gross, “what your future would turn out to be depended mostly on who your parents were and where you were born but, because of the Internet, that is no longer the case.” Access is truly global and truly open, but the danger, he added “is from those who will shut that down”

Lady Gaga Launches Born This Way Foundation

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

I will post more later, but here’s my 1 minute CBS News segment about Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.  I was honored to be at the launch event and, along with my co-director Anne Collier, the day-long symposium that preceded the event.

Listen to the one minute segment

Facebook Users Becoming More Privacy Savvy

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Percent of social networking users who have taken these steps to protect their privacy (Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project)

When it comes to social media privacy, there is some good news from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. It shows that Americans are increasingly thinking about their own privacy and reputation management. Which, at the end of the day, is the most protective factor of all.

A new report, Privacy management on social media sites, found that people were more likely to use basic privacy features in 2011 than they were in 2009.  The study also found that only 2% of Facebook users felt that it’s “very difficult” to use privacy controls. Forty nine percent say that it’s “not difficult at all,”  though 48% said they experienced some level of difficulty.

In general, teens and young adults are more privacy conscious than older people.

The study found that:

  • 37% untagged photos, up from 30% in 2009
  • 44% deleted comments, up from 36^ in 2009
  • 63% unfriended someone, up from 56% in 2009

It also found that 58% restrict access to their profiles and that women are significantly more likely to use privacy setting than men  (67% vs 48%).


Eleven percent said they posted content that they regret with males almost twice as likely (15% vs. 8%) to have regrets than women. Young adults (18-29) are three times more likely (15% vs. 5%) to say they’ve posted content they regret than users 50 or older.

Privacy is the norm & teens are leading the way

Privacy settings: Teens Vs. Adults

Users of all ages  are likely to use the service’s privacy settings, with teens leading the way. 62% of teens say they mostly post content to friends only compared to 59% of 18-29 year-olds, 60% of 30-49 year-olds, 52% of 50-64 year-olds, and 55% of people over 65.

Women and young adults more likely to prune their lists

Women are more likely to trim their friends lists than men (67% vs. 58%) as are young adults. Seventy one percent of young adults say they’ve deleted contacts compared to 63% of people between 30 and 49, 56% of 50 to 64 year-olds and 41% of people over 65.

The survey also found that young adults are more likely to delete comments, and remove tags.

Government regulation vs. personal responsibility

The Pew Report came out  the day after the Obama Administration released its Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World report (PDF) that includes a proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights that the administration plans to send to Congress.  As important as they are, these rights can’t completely protect user privacy.  Even the most stringent privacy policies and government regulations  won’t protect people from posting things they may regret if people are not thinking carefully about what they post. Regardless of the regulatory environment, media literacy and critical thinking remain the the most important factors when it comes to protecting our privacy and safety.