Tag Archives: safety

Windows Family Safety – Free Web Filter/Activity Reporting Tool

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One of the most common questions parents ask me is, “How do you filter/monitor your kids’ Internet activity?” In our house, it’s through the utilization of Microsoft’s free Windows Family Safety software.

This only works on Windows PCs, but since my wife is the only one for which I’ve ponied up the money for a Macbook, the kids all still have basic Windows laptops, so this option works well for us. We’re also still using Windows 7, so I can’t quite speak to the cool new Windows 8 solutions either.  That said, I can tell you about my experience with Windows 7 and Windows Family Safety.

Overall, our family is very pleased with the experience. The kids do get annoyed sometimes when the filter gets a bit over ambitious on the Pinterest posts (almost anything with any sort of skin gets blocked – i.e. cute bracelets and ring photos). But I’d rather have it error on that side than the alternative.

Family Safety does an admirable job of filtering out all the bad stuff the Internet has to offer. It provides a number of “levels” of filtering, as well as a very comprehensive reporting tool listing everything your kids visit online. It’s cloud based, which lets you log on from any computer to check on things, and it even has tools to set time limits and such for each child.

And my favorite feature: it’s FREE! Yeah, I’m geeky and cheap.

Click here to learn all the details of Windows Family Safety, including how to install it on your computers.

NOTE: This only helps protect your kid’s computers.  Don’t forget about the rest of your Internet-enabled devices.  Read this post for more details on DNS Filters for your Internet router, and this post for more info on locking up your iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

And don’t be shy, please share this with other parents so they can learn how to better protect their kids from the nasty underbelly of the Internet.

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Instagram Adds Tagging to Photos – Change Your Child’s Settings to Avoid Unwanted Public Tags

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Instagram released an update to their app today featuring new “tagging” functionality. Dubbed “Photos of You”, the new feature is much like the photo tagging function on Facebook, allowing Instagram users to tag photos of themselves and other users. All of the photos you’re tagged in will show up in a new tab on your Instagram profile.

This is important for parents to understand because it means your kids may be tagged by others and those photos will (by default) automatically show up on your kid’s “Photos of You” tab. Now, if you’re already on top of it, your kid’s Instagram account should be set up as private (if not, here’s how). And if your account is set as private, only people who you accept as followers will get to see all the great “selfies” your child rushes to tag. BUT, if your child’s account is set to public, then any photo they tag of themselves AND any photo ANYONE ELSE tags of them will show up and be visible to the public.

Fortunately, Instagram allows you to control whether your tagged photos are added automatically or manually to your “Photos of You” tab. Unfortunately, they set the default to “Add Automatically”. So here’s a quick run-down on how to see the new feature, and how to change the settings to “Add Manually.”

Once you update your app, this is where you’ll find the new “Photos of You” tab:

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And, once you’re on the “Photos of You” tab, this is the button you push to edit your settings:

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In the settings area, simply select the “Add Manually” option and Instagram will now ask your permission before posting any photos tagged as you:

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For more information about “Photos of You” functionality, visit Instagram’s support page on the topic.

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6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Using Ask.fm

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Is anonymous posting encouraged?  Anyone – a classmate, colleague, ex-boyfriend, pedophile, next door neighbor, that creepy guy at the mall – anyone can post a question on your page, anonymously.

Are your questions/answers public?  There are no privacy settings on this site. ALL your “answers” are available for anyone with internet access (2.4 BILLION people!) to view at their leisure.

Are your answers permanent?  Those fun, goofy questions you’re answering may well come back to haunt you later in life (think of your future children, employers, spouse, the media if you ever become famous). You might also be surprised to learn that most web pages are “cached” or archived daily and old versions can be searched at any time (http://archive.org/web/web.php). So even if you “delete” an answer, it’s likely cached somewhere for life.

Is the site run by two Russian guys in the Republic of Latvia?  Do you really want to share your personal “answers”, connect your Facebook account, or trust your data with a company run in a former Russian province you probably can’t even point out on a map?

Were upwards of 6 suicides allegedly tied to bullying on the site?  This news article outlines the awful stories of several teens who were allegedly hurt so bad via the site that they ultimately took their own lives: http://bit.ly/10sLHAz.

Is it a magnet for sick, twisted, vulgar individuals?  Because it’s anonymous, people who have nothing but awful, hurtful, obscene things to say are drawn to it like flies to manure. Who wants to converse with gutless scum like that?

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Ask.fm – The ugly, anonymous, vulgar, bullying social site that kids are joining at an alarming rate.

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So my wife follows a slew of middle school girls on Instagram and Facebook. Recently she noticed a new site called Ask.fm popping up on several “about me” sections. We started doing a little research and what we learned is VERY alarming. To the point where I immediately blocked the entire ask.fm domain using our Open DNS and Windows Family Safety filters (read this post for more info re: installing good Internet filters on your home network).

What’s so alarming you ask? If you haven’t already, take a quick peak at the small sampling of “questions” and answers on a random 15 year old girl’s Ask.fm page in the image above. These are the PG-13 examples. I literally had to cut and paste to avoid sharing the extremely vulgar posts interspersed throughout the 800+ questions this one girl answered.

At first glance the site seems innocent enough. It’s a simple place to ask a fun or interesting question and get back immediate answers. However, the problem centers around the site’s decision to allow anonymous posts –  letting any malicious, horny, vindictive, or twisted individual post WHATEVER they want on your page. This could be a friend from school, an ex-boyfriend, a jealous peer, or an incarcerated pedophile. There is no way to tell who is posting what.

The site claims more than 40 million users and is run by Russian entrepreneurs based in Latvia. It’s also been named in various lawsuits associated with upwards of 6 teen suicides allegedly due to aggressive bullying on the site.

Because the site is so new, most parents are clueless. Please take a moment to share this post with other parents so we can address the dangers with our children before they are needlessly hurt by it (or worse). And, please take a moment to sit down with your kids to be sure they understand the dangers themselves. More than anything else teens need to know how to identify dangerous sites like these themselves – to be able to see through the hype and to recognize a concerning site on their own. Use this new knowledge as an opportunity to educate on the ways to do just that.

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Instagram + Kik = DANGER!

If you’ve got any sort of smartphone, you probably know all about Instagram. It’s an iPhone/Android app that helps you make your average photos look “semi-pro”. I’m pretty addicted to it, actually. In fact, I think I’ll give myself a shameless plug just to get more followers and coveted likes. @keneramirez is my Instagram handle.

Everybody wants to be liked. Especially insecure kids and youth. This insatiable desire to be liked, combined with an ever-present Internet-connected camera phone is what’s made this simple app so incredibly popular. It’s also what makes it so dangerous for your kids. Unfortunately, kids don’t always have the wisdom to know what is appropriate and safe to share online. And Instagram conveniently installs itself preset to make all your photos public. That’s right, out of the box, Instagram takes every photo you take with it and makes it available for anyone who wants to see it. It also lets you “geo-tag” any photo you want. While this can seem cool at first, imagine what a child predator can learn about your kid with a handful of photos that have been plotted out on a map. What happens if several of those photos were taken at your home?

But wait, this gets even scarier…  Now there is a growing group of Instagram users who are sharing their “kik” instant messenger profiles with each other. From the fun logo you’d think this was just another simple chatting site. Unfortunately, the majority of the people sharing kik addresses with each other on Instagram are less interested in chatting and more interested in sharing photos that Instagram desperately tries to keep off it’s family-friendly network.

If you’ve got kids or youth who are on Instagram (or who are begging to get on), you need to read this detailed experience with Instagram & Kik by Michael Sheehan over at HighTechDad.com. Sheehan describes his daughter’s foray into Instagram and his shocking discovery of Kik. He also outlines a number of helpful best practices every Instagram user should know.

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Not In My House! – Internet Filtering & Monitoring

Before we continue on, you should come to grips with one very important assumption:

Your kids can find a way around virtually any filter/monitor you install.

Don’t believe me? Do a simple Google search on “how to defeat [name of your filtering software]”. Any teenager can do the same, and if determined enough, they will succeed. So, before you even mess with trying out some of the following safeguards, your first priority should be teaching and mentoring your kids on the values of trust, purity, and common sense.

That said, you most definitely should employ some or all of these suggested strategies. What’s the point, you ask? Perhaps the best way to answer that is to consider how kids used to stumble upon “explicit reading materials” back in the day. Most likely they had to find it at some friends’ house. Or maybe they went so far as to steal it from the local liquor store. But just because they could get it if they really wanted it, their parents didn’t give them the key to a walk-in closet full of the nastiest, most vile porn they could find. When you leave your computers, iPads, smart phones, even iPods wide open and unrestricted, you are essentially doing just that. Actually, it’s a whole lot worse. The things your child can access through an unrestricted Internet browser are terribly worse than the ugliest porn you could ever imagine.

Scared?  Good.  Now let’s look at a few ways you can add some hefty speed bumps, barbed wire fencing, and even closed circuit video surveillance to your computer/network security setup.

 

Installing a Gate In Your Driveway

Before you even mess with any particular computer or device, you should consider changing the configurations on your Internet router. This is the “driveway” into your home and a good “gate” can keep most of the dangerous content from even reaching any of your Internet connected devices. There are a number of services to help you do this. The one we use in our home is OpenDNS. After creating a free account, this service will walk you through a couple simple changes to your router settings. This will force the router to run all Internet activity through a filter prior to getting to any device connected to your network.

WARNING: The lock on this particular “gate” is relatively easy to pick. While a good DNS filter will keep most young children out of trouble, a quick web search is all an older child needs to thwart this first level of defense.

 

Surveillance and Filtering

Your next line of defense requires a two-fold approach, and your options for this are pretty diverse. Every computer, smart phone and Internet-enabled device has its own specific parental controls and settings. Some programs work great on Windows PCs. Others work better on Macs. I’ve already outlined my best practices for securing your iOS (iPods,iPhones, & iPads) in an earlier blog (iPods/Pads/Phones for Kids), so this post will focus primarily on options for securing your computers.

Unlike the “gate” defense, filtering and monitoring requires individual setup procedures for every Internet-enabled device in your home.  There are a wide variety of programs to help you manage these safeguards.  The following are a handful I’ve researched and recommend.

 

Windows Family Safety – This is a free program offered by Microsoft.  The price is right and it does a very good job of both filtering and monitoring, as well as a number of other parental controls. However, it’s best feature is that it integrates very well with Windows.  Since I’m still too cheap to buy my kids Macs, we use this tool in our home to protect and monitor all our PCs. Are there other programs for Windows that do as good, if not better, than Windows Family Safety. Yep. I did mention I’m cheap though, right? If more bells and whistles appeal to you, the following paid options are all also great solutions to consider.

 

NetNanny – One of the most popular and feature-packed options available. Offers both Windows and Mac versions.

SafeEyes – Dave Ramsey recommends this particular solution. Offers nearly identical features and options. Also available in Mac and Windows versions.

AVG Family Safety – Another great option, although this one only works on Windows machines.  One great feature is an optional remote set-up.  For $10 an AVG tech will connect to your computer remotely and do the full installation for you.

 

Mac OS X Parental Controls – If you’re not as cheap as me and your kids have their own Macs, you’ll definitely want to learn all about the built in parental controls on your Mac.

Know of another good filtering and/or monitoring program?  Please do share in the comments below!

 

Open, Honest Communication

Lastly, but definitely not leastly (is that even a word?), it’s critical that your kids understand exactly what you’ve installed and why you’ve installed it. Our kids know that we care enough to take every reasonable step we can to protect them from as much of the nasty, ugly, dangerous Internet junk as possible. They also know we mean business and that we will hold them accountable should they stumble and wander into places they shouldn’t. The very first time our monitoring tools warned us of some questionable searches, we took that opportunity to make it very clear we were watching and that we cared enough to call them out on it.

As much as we want to put a bubble around our kids everywhere they go, we are also realistic to know they can and will likely stumble into junk they shouldn’t. However, that doesn’t mean we need to leave the door wide open 24/7 in our own home. I hope these suggestions and resources will help you have some open, honest and helpful discussions in your own homes.

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iPods/Pads/Phones for Kids

About 4 years ago our family started a trend. Back then all the cool kids had a Nintendo DS. We, being the rebels we are, decided to buck the trend and got our kids snazzy new iPods instead. Our reasoning being they were actually cheaper than a DS, the games were mostly less than $5 each (DS games are stupid expensive!), and they could serve multiple purposes.

Being the geek I am, I researched the iPods pretty extensively prior to giving them to my kids. The fact is an iPod is pretty much a small computer, complete with unfettered email, Internet, video, and chatting straight out of the box. Fortunately, Apple includes pretty extensive controls to restrict access to all these scary apps and settings. You just need to know what to restrict.

The purpose of this post is to help you identify all the settings and restrictions you may want to consider as you set up your iOS device for your young child.

Settings > General > Restrictions

Pretty much all the restriction settings can be found by opening the “Settings” app and selecting the “General”, then the “Restrictions” menu options.  Once here, click the “Enable Restrictions” button and enter a passcode.

Once you enable restrictions, the first settings to adjust are which apps you want to disable.  I’ve tried to share a quick reason or two as to why or why not to disable a particular app.

Safari – This app lets you browse the wide open Internet.  I highly recommend turning it off for children.  There are a number of great kid-safe Internet browser apps you can install later if you want to let your kids surf the Internet using their iOS device.  One of the best ones I’ve found is available for free from AVG.

YouTube – Supposedly you can set age-specific restrictions which should apply to this app, but in my house we just keep it turned off to be safe.

Camera – If you’re worried about your kids taking inappropriate pictures, then you may want to turn off the camera app.

FaceTime – This app lets you video call people.  This can be a great experience with grandparents and when Mom/Dad’s gone on a trip, but it’s also a wide-open tool for anyone to see and communicate with your child.  I’d recommend only turning this on when you are there to supervise use of it.

iTunes – This app is also supposed to abide by the age restrictions we’ll cover below, but unless you want your kids buying movies and songs unsupervised, I’d recommend turning this off.

Ping – This app is a social media add-on to iTunes where you can talk with others about your music preferences and such.  If you’re going to leave iTunes on, I recommend keeping Ping turned off for kids.

Installing Apps – If you set up your age restrictions, you should be able to let your kids install apps without too many concerns. I prefer to supervise and approve all app installations, partially because I worry about the effectiveness of the age restrictions and partially because I want to be sure they aren’t overloading the device with so many apps it affects the device performance.

Deleting Apps – This is helpful with young children who may inadvertently delete things.

Siri – This app lets you ask the device for advice (only certain iOS devices have this option). Keep in mind, it will answer ALL sorts of questions. I’m old fashioned in that I believe parents should be the only ones answering certain kinds of questions.

 

 

Additional settings include the ability to restrict content based on specific ratings. These age-specific restrictions apply primarily to Apple apps such as iTunes, YouTube, and installing Apps. You’ll want to be sure to turn off  “In-App Purchases”. Otherwise you may get some fun surprises when your next Apple bill arrives.

 

And finally, you can restrict the ability to make changes to the device’s “Location”, “Accounts” and “Find My Friends” settings. If the device is GPS enabled, you can lock down the location settings. This comes in handy with older kids who are lucky enough to have their own iPhone. With the Location and Find My Friend settings locked down you have the ability to keep tabs on their location and they don’t have the option of selectively turning this great feature off. By restricting the Accounts settings your child will not be able add additional email accounts, nor change any of the email settings. In this post I describe how to setup a Gmail account for your child to use that lets you monitor all their email activity. By locking down the Accounts settings, you can set-up the email for your child on their iOS device, enter the password, and then they can use email all they want without having access to the Gmail settings online.

Now you know how to make your iOS device safe for a child of any age.  Hopefully your kids enjoy them as much as mine have.

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