Friday, February 07, 2014

The 3Cs for Parents - content, contact and cost risks

Spotting the risks in technologies and cyberactivities is as easy as 1-2-3C’s. Everything falls into one or more of these 3C categories.

1.      Content = information, pictures, audio, video, porn, hate, misinformation and hype.
2.      Contact = any technology or feature that lets you talk to others or them to talk to you, like IM, iChat, text, cell phone calls, BBMs, forums and voice-over-IP.
3.      Cost = anything that can end up costing you money, like viruses, ID theft, lawsuits for downloading other people’s copyrighted content, loss of files and hacking. It also includes the commercial risks of advertising, marketing and fraud.

Content Risks:
“Content” is anything that is information, images, video, music or audio, text…it’s the biggest category of all 3C’s. There are lots of different kinds of content risks. These include pornography, hate and bigotry, misinformation and hype. There are content risks that promote risky conduct too. These include bomb-building and sites that include misinformation about suicide, eating disorders, drug abuse and gambling. (If the site actually promotes, encourages or assists in users engaging in self-harm, dangerous behavior or abuse, it may also be a conduct risk, a 4th category of “c” risks dealing with behavior, not digital capabilities.)
Some common categories of “content” risks include:

Pornography is on the top of everyone’s gross list. Everyone wants to be spared from unwanted disgusting graphic images online. Luckily, for younger kids, parental controls and filtering software do a good job of screening out most of the porn content. But when teens are looking for innocent stuff online, they may end up at gross sites by accident.
When anyone searches for information online, or mistypes or misspells a domain name, they may find themselves at a pornography site.  When they open their e-mail boxes or instant messages they may find themselves targeted by slimy ads for porn sites too. Many use the names of your favorite celebrities to trick you into visiting those sites, thinking they are for fans.
And if they stumble upon a pornography site, they may find themselves locked in an avalanche of new pornographic windows, unable to escape without having to shut down their computers (“mousetrapping”).  And sometimes when they type in the URL of their favorite site, they end up at a pornography site instead, either because traffic for that site had been redirected by a pornography site (“hijacking”) or because the site owner had forgotten to renew their domain name registration (“porn-napping”). 

When some creepy person registers and uses a website that is designed to trick kids into going there, because they would think it’s for kids, that is now illegal. They are called Misleading Domain Names. Someone in NY went to jail for years because he did this.

You can report any misleading domain names to the It’s one of the types of reports that the US government decided should be reported to them.

Hate, Intolerance and Bigotry
We need to be highly suspicious when sites promote hate, intolerance, and bigotry. If they do this out in the open, we will ignore them and they know this. But, if they are very sneaky about it, they may get in under our radar. There are many sites that claim the Holocaust never happened. Others mock racial minority groups, people with disabilities, those will different sexual preferences, ethnic groups and religious groups. Some promote intolerance by promoting racial supremacy.  Sadly, hate, intolerance and bigotry are like poison ivy, if you touch it – it spreads and infects everyone who comes into contact with it!

This is one place where we need to use the filter between our ears. Don’t believe everything you see or hear or read online.

Judge Judy told Parry that there are lots of “kooks and crackpots” online. She was right! (But isn’t Judge Judy always right?)

Violence and Gore
Teens and preteens (especially boys) often search for gory sites filled with amputated body parts and people clubbing baby seals.  They also create their own gory and violent videos and post them on YouTube, YouTube and MySpace. It’s their own form of “reality TV.”

Misinformation and Hype
How can we tell the real and reliable stuff from the kooks, pyramid schemes, crackpots or outright lies?  That’s why it’s important that we learn about information literacy, what and whom to believe online and off.

Cyber Hoaxes, Rumors, and Urban Legends
 Rumors, especially those that sound believable, have been around for centuries. It isn’t any different in cyberspace. In fact, they move faster online than they ever could offline. Most good hoaxes and rumors have three main ingredients—they could happen (or sounds like they could), they touch something we know about or think is true and they feed on fear. The difference between a rumor and a hoax is that while hoaxes are planned by the people who started them as fakes, rumors may be believed by the person who started them and innocently passed on.

Contact Risks:
The second most common risk is “contact.” Contact involves any digital feature or technolofy that allows you to reach out and communicate with someone or them to reach you. It is targeted to one or more specific users, not everyone who reads your profile. (That’s “content” not “contact”.) It includes obvious technologies like cell phone calls, texting, IM, e-mails, webcams and private messages on Facebook. But it also included Xbox 360 live and other gaming devices voice-chat, status messages, video and standard blogs, Picto-Chat on DS, DSi and Wii communication tools, and tagging images with messages.
While you may know what these devices and features can do to connect you with others, parents don’t. And younger kids are too young to appreciate the risks associated with contact tools. Spotting the ways new technologies, online and on gaming and handheld devices can be used to contact others can make the difference between being safe and in control or being hurt or getting into trouble.

Addressing Contact Risks:
Most contact technologies have user controls or privacy settings that let you decide who can reach you. Before you start using a site, or new device or feature see if you have user controls to block people when they become annoying, or limit access to just your friends and approved callers or senders. Some can limit whom you can call on your cell phone too. The choice of who you talk with should be yours!

Find out how you can turn off some of these features so only friends can contact you. See if you can prescreen communications from people you don’t know. Come up with a “code” so your friends can prove it’s really them, instead of someone posing as them or using their account without their knowledge or permission.

Buddy lists on IM and friends lists on Facebook are communication tools that help give you control over who can contact you. Xbox 360 has extensive controls over contact features, too.  Knowing how to set and use these tools will help you stay safer.

Not every risk has a technology fix. Many rely on careful and educated use. Do you know enough? I bet you have something you don’t know already. Visit the websites run by the technology or device provider. What do they tell you the technology can do? Do they give you information about privacy settings and communication controls? What about the use manual? Spend some time searching online for tips to that technology. (It’s a shame that often the best info can be found by users, not from the companies themselves.)

Then, share, share, share!!! Post your solutions online, let the companies know they need to post them too and insist that before you buy some new fun device they know their technology better than you do. Together we can make things safer.

Cost/Commercialism Risks:
The 3rd C, Cost, has two parts. The first involves the risks to your technology (such as viruses and hacking), legal risks (like being sued for illegally downloading music, having your digital video camera seized for being brought into a movie theater or for hacking someone else) and direct costs, such as calling China, sending 5,000 text-messages or having someone send you text-bombs of 5,000 messages, downloading ringtones with viruses or that cost money, ID theft or buying too many applications online for your budget. The second category of cost-related risks is also called “commercial risks.” These include inappropriate or fraudulent advertisements or marketing practices. Pop-up promises to give away iPods for winning a short game or for being the 1 millionth person to visit a site fall into this category. So do ads for Viagra or sexy lingerie marketed to minors online. Tricks used to get your parents credit card info or bank account details, or for you to give away your passwords or logins so they can use your account to send out gross junk e-mail are “cost” risks too.

Anything that costs you or your parents money, wrecks your technology, files or devices, steals your accounts or cash or gathers your personal information without your knowledge is a “cost/commercial” risk.

The 4th C - Conduct Risks:
The 3Cs are about risks that can exploit the technology. The 4th – conduct is about teens exploiting themselves or others. Acting out online, cyberbullying others and doing things you would never do offline are the kinds of things that make up this 4th category of “C” risks – conduct. It’s also when teens visit certain sites to help them engage in dangerous activities, like building bombs, buying weapons and poisons, eating disorders, cutting, attempting suicide and online gambling. While most teens can avoid these and don’t understand the attraction, those who are needy or at risk can’t.

Learning how to build a bomb is as simple as typing the word “bomb” into your favorite search engine. While teens can just as easily find the bomb-building information at their local library, the instant access makes it more accessible and more tempting when they are bored. The Anarchists’ Cookbook, is posted all over the Internet and explains how you can buy whatever you need at your local grocery, hardware, and farming supply stores to build a bomb. (It even includes a recipe to make nitroglycerin.) The really frightening part is that thousands of teenagers have told Parry that they might try to build a bomb just to see if it works. Even good teens could be a bomb threat if they get bored one afternoon. That’s pretty scary!

Suicide Sites
There are a growing number of websites devoted to helping people and encouraging them to commit suicide. They include helplines to assist those who are trying to commit suicide, information about the different methods and even webcams where their members can watch you die. These are becoming more popular every day. Several of the cyberbullying-related suicide victims visited one of these sites before taking their own life.

Sadly, while the sites that encourage suicide are growing rapidly, the sites from groups that try to discourage suicide are not. Many of the groups that fight suicide and assist troubled children and adults are still afraid of the technology or providing online help.

Fortunately, Facebook and other leading industry networks are now providing links to suicide help group sites and accepting reports from users when others have posted suicidal comments.

Eating Disorder and Emotional Disorder Sites and Groups
Bulimia, anorexia and cutting are emotional disorders that affect many teens. And the Internet has made it easier for teens to find others with similar disorders. Once they join these online communities, it makes it harder for them to resist. And it makes it harder for their parents and friends to detect and combat. Having others encouraging their dangerous behaviors makes this a serious risk to all teens, especially during their early teen impressionable years.

Drug Abuse
A few years ago, a teen died while abusing drugs. While that is not unusual, the fact that he did it on a webcam and we have video images of him dying while others in a special drug abuse chatroom encouraged him to “take more” is.

Many teens feel alone. And finding a place where they are accepted is important to them. If that means they are abusing drugs, or engaging in other high risk behavior to fit in, it is often the price to pay. And many teens are willing to pay it. In addition to encouraging dangerous behavior, these website and online groups give them a place where they feel accepted, even if they are doing dangerous or illegal things. They feel more like the norm and less like the exception, when others are doing the same things they are.

Weapon, Poisons and Drug Sales
Several years ago, a young boy in the United States used his father’s American Express card to buy an automatic revolver online and had it shipped to his house. He obviously hadn’t thought about what would happen when the credit card bill arrived! Luckily, his mother intercepted the package and confiscated the gun.

Online gambling, poker and games of chance are among the most popular activities online among adults. Is it a surprise that they are also popular among teens? They are addictive and are costing teens their entire life savings. Fantasy sports leagues help feed the hunger for gambling as well. Teens are using their own money to gamble online. Unfortunately, while they may be able to send their money to the website in order to gamble, many sites are either fraudulent or may refuse to send them their winnings for other reasons. And since even in the US online gambling is not regulated (just using a credit card or other financial institution to pay for it is) there isn’t much you can do about it.

“Cybering,” “Sexting” and Sharing Sexually Provocative Images and Videos You’ve seen them, you’ve heard about them and maybe you even did it once or twice yourself. It’s so easy to do things online you would never dream about doing in real life. Maybe you were bored, or everyone else at the slumber party was doing it, or you did it on a dare.
But if you are under the age of 18 in the US, you may find yourself charged with creating, distributing or possessing child pornography, even if it’s of yourself.

Gangs Online
Most of us think that gangs exist only on the inner city streets. But, like everyone else, they exist online too. And their online activities have helped them recruit teens they would never have come into contact with in “RL” (“real life”). They can create glamorous videos on YouTube, fundraise and spread propaganda about what they do.

But gangs aren’t glamorous, they are cruel, violent and  dangerous to their members and the public. No amount of slick video spin can change that.