The Online Safety Toolkit: Resource Packet – Keeping Up with Apps and Parental Tools
Parents and caregivers regularly tell us that they feel overwhelmed by the task of understanding and safeguarding kids’ online activity. Our new, 5-page resource packet, linked below, is a great starting point for any adult wanting to take steps toward more effective online safety practices.
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Plugged In: Current Legislation Related to Online Safety
On March 1st, 2022, children’s online safety was included in the State of the Union address. There are currently four primary bills being considered in the US after nearly 25 years since the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998.
Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA)
KOSA would require commercial online platforms to “prevent and mitigate the risks of physical, emotional, developmental, or material harms” posed to minors using the platform.
Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act
The Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (CTOPPA) expands upon the original COPPA legislation and would extend the protections of COPPA from children up to age 13 to children up to age 16. This has been put forth by Senator Ed Markey, who authored the original COPPA legislation.
Protecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth Act
Also called the Kids PRIVCY Act, this legislation is similar to CTOPPA, but extends COPPA protections to children up to age 17.
The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act
California is considering the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, which would bring increased requirements for companies to verify age and consider childrens’ safety and privacy. This aligns with a movement in the United Kingdom toward requiring all pornography sites to include age verification that goes beyond self-confirmation, the current norm
Read more and read legislation text, here.
What is the Cyber Tipline and How Does it Work?
Given how common teens sharing explicit images is today, families need to know how the Cyber Tipline can support them if their children’s explicit image is shared online. While we hope it will never happen, a little preparation can go a long way
The Cyber Tipline is part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). It has special analysts and technology that assist in the removal of images online. If images have been posted, there is no guarantee that they can ever be fully removed from the Internet, but the sooner steps are taken to remove them, the less time there is for them to spread and be saved on other servers around the world.
What happens when a tip is made?
NCMEC reviews every tip of explicit material or online enticement of a child that it receives. Staff try to determine a location of both the perpetrator and the victim, if unknown, and supply the incident report to the appropriate law-enforcement agency to pursue the case.
NCMEC also has technology to search online for the unique ID (called a “hash value”) that is attached to each image and report any instances for removal from the hosting site. This is why, it is important to make reports as soon as possible, even if you or your child feels embarrassed. The sooner NCMEC or law enforcement gets involved, the better the chance of limiting the damage and preventing it from following a child later in life.
Support for Victims and Families
Even when families report images quickly, many still feel shame, stigma, and other difficult feelings after an image is shared. NCMEC has some great resources for victims and families, including the Team HOPE program that matches parents with trained volunteers who have had similar experiences in the past.
To read more about the Cyber Tipline, click here.
The Cyber Tipline Phone Number: 1-800-THE-LOST
Eight Types of Parental Settings: An Overview
This month’s featured article includes the Resource Packet: Keeping Up with Apps and Parental Tools, with breakdowns of some of the major devices, apps, and streaming platforms and the ways in which they connect to one another. We explain there that different types of settings can interconnect. For example, having accurate settings within a mobile device can prevent the need for more specific settings in apps that you’d rather kids not have in the first place.
Many devices and apps are linked to more central profiles, such as Microsoft profiles linking to Xbox accounts, or Google profiles linking to Chrome browser and YouTube accounts. Knowing the different types of settings can help you decide the most efficient and effective way to utilize them for your family.
Below is a more thorough breakdown of the different types of parental settings. The resource packet includes links to examples of all of them:
Computer Operating Systems
Windows, Mac OS, and Chrome OS computers all offer some built in settings for restricting content, limiting the websites your family can browse, and limiting purchases. These can be a great first step to your family’s online safety.
Just like computer operating systems, Mac and Android devices have built in tools to limit content and purchases. They also provide parents with screen time settings, activity reports, GPS tracking, and other more monitoring that can be customized. Along with the Computer OS settings above, these are the best first steps for online safety.
Chrome, Safari, and Firefox browsers default to the parental settings on the device (or attached to Google account in use in the case of Chrome). That means Chrome settings are tied to the device settings OR a child’s Google account; Safari settings are done within the Mac computer or mobile device interface, and Firefox automatically turns content filters on if the device in use has any parental settings turned on.
NOTE: Dangerous anonymous websites, such as the live-streaming site Omegle, can only be blocked using the higher level settings that come in devices, browsers, and sometimes routers.
Using settings or free services like OpenDNS, Parents can block access to certain sites for everyone on the network. This may feel too complicated for some families, and there are some easy workarounds that make this approach less effective. For example, if kids use their data plan or access nearby WiFi networks, the local network restrictions will no longer apply.
Parents can turn on higher levels of content filtering within Google, Yahoo, and Bing search engines as an added layer of protection.
Video Streaming Sites
Common streaming sites such as YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video offer simple, age-based restriction options. Live-streaming websites vary in how to set up parameters, if you can at all, and are therefore significantly riskier. The popular streaming site Twitch does offer parental settings, while sites like Omegle must be blocked using the types of settings described earlier.
Games and Consoles
Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo all offer parental settings that can protect privacy, and limit purchasing and communication . Xbox settings are connected Microsoft Family Group Settings (included in the Resource Packet: Keeping Up with Apps and Parental Tools), while Playstation and Nintendo settings must be done independently.
3rd Party Parental Apps
Parents may find 3rd party apps that house many settings in one place to be helpful. Some of these services can provide monitoring for apps like Snapchat, that have no lockable or effective privacy settings of their own. On the downside, many of these apps cost money for some or all features, and some features or limitations may not fit for your family.
Plugged In: So What is the Dark Web, Anyway?
Just the name “Dark Web” hints at some of the dangers that can lurk there. Originally, however, the Dark Web was an Internet network created in the 1990s by the United States government as a way for U.S. spies to communicate secretly. The Dark Web was officially opened to the public in the early 2000s, and in countries where legitimate internet usage is heavily controlled, the Dark Web can still play positive functions. Unfortunately, those same privacy features have created an environment where criminal behavior is prevalent.
The most popular way to access the Dark Web is by way of the TOR Network. The TOR network is short for “The Onion Router”, named such because of its logo. The Dark Web is notorious for online drug trades, conversations between computer hackers, and accessing and sharing child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
As much as 80% of overall Dark Web traffic is used for CSAM, which is then traded or purchased using untraceable cryptocurrency. Some of this material involves trafficked victims, and in the worst instances, perpetrators may pay criminals to produce content to their specifications.
Most children will never venture to the Dark Web, but it’s important for parents to know of its existence. When you inspect your child’s devices, be on the lookout for “TOR,” The Onion Router, with the logo shown on this page. If your child has accessed the Dark Web, it is important to explore their reasons, understand what they have seen, support and educate them, minimize blame, and set effective limits using parental tools.
Learn more about the Dark Web and preventing kids from accessing it.
Each month in our Plugged In section, Internet Safety Specialist Joe Dugan brings you important information from the front lines of web safety. Joe is a retired Detective who now works with the Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.
Loss of Privacy and The Risks of Sharing Explicit Images
The number one reason kids report choosing not to share explicit images after considering it is concern about the photos being shared or leaked (29% in a 2019 study). By contrast, only 3% said sharing being illegal was the reason they decided not to. It’s important for parents and kids to know about the risks associated with sharing explicit images, and it can motivate kids to practice safer online behavior.
Public and Permanent
Many kids have some sense of the privacy risks online, but studies show that they take false comfort in apps that provide features for anonymity or automated deletion. Snapchat, for example, allows senders to limit the length and number of times an image can be viewed, and notifies them if recipients take a screen shot. What many users don’t realize is that there are many ways to work around these limitations, from simply recording one screen using a second device, to using screen recording software to capture everything the recipient looks at without the sender ever knowing. Kids and adults alike need to understand that anything that is sent online has the potential to be both public and permanent, even if the recipient never intends to share it.
Doxing and Revenge Porn
There are instances where image sharing goes even further, and explicit images are posted online along with identifying information such as name, town, or even address and phone number. This is often known as “doxing” or revenge porn. These are crimes for which law enforcement should be notified and involved, even though they will not be able to fully retrieve any image once it has been shared online. Those who collect this kind of material catalogue and host it in servers around the world, beyond the jurisdictions of any one legal agency. In some instances, perpetrators use the threat of doxing to extort more images or money, which is another reason why parents need to make kids comfortable to bring problems to them as early as possible.
The humiliation and shame that often results from being exposed in this way can feel overwhelming to kids and their families. If your child has shared images of themselves and/or had someone distribute them, it is important to take calm, supportive action to fully understand the scope of the problem and determine best next steps.
Pressing Pause on Persuasive Technology
At its best, the Internet is a tool aimed to help us to advance our goals and interests. Unlike a tool, however, major parts of the Internet – especially social media – have an agenda of their own. Because social media platforms profit primarily from ads, their agenda becomes to show users more ads by keeping them on the screen/platform as long as possible. When a platform or app tries to change our opinion or behavior, it is Persuasive Technology.
Persuasive technology takes advantage of our brain’s reward systems to keep us engaged without consideration of our short- or long-term goals. If you have ever had a to-do list fall by the wayside while you spend more time than you planned on social media, you have been successfully targeted by persuasive technology.
Persuasive tech’s seamless distractions can cause us to lose sight of the larger impact technology has on our lives and emotional wellbeing. It is this same moment-to-moment gratification that can sweep kids up and lead to making unsafe decisions.
If you’d like to gain perspective on the impact of social media on your kids’ life and wellbeing, consider keeping a simple chart like the one below. One suggestion is to have each family member complete the chart and then discuss the results together. For the most accurate account of time spent, you can set up some of the tools explained in last month’s newsletter.
Use this chart to reflect on the effect social media is having on your family members and brainstorm ideas to align these activities with your family’s values and goals. Download a PDF template here.
The Online Safety Toolkit: Parental Tools for Streaming Services
This month, we’re focusing on three of the biggest streaming services and the tools they have in place to help keep your children safe. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to child safety, so consider how these tools may best help your family. Below, we’ve also included links to the parental tools on other platforms.
Netflix tools fall into two basic categories with similar functions: Restrictions placed on individual profiles, and profiles set to Netflix Kids Experience. For both, it’s important to set up the Profile Lock feature explained below.
Access Settings via Desktop interface: Account> Profile and Parental Controls>Select kid’s profile>Viewing Restrictions
Individual profiles can have specific age limits placed on content.
Netflix Kids Experience:
Profiles that are set to Kids are automatically limited to the TV-Y – PG range of shows and movies.
In either case, you can also restrict specific Netflix titles and view profile activity.
For these features to be effective, make sure that your children can not create new accounts without your knowledge. To do so from the Netflix desktop interface:
Account>Select kid’s profile>Profile Lock: ON>Type password and create pin
Read more about Netflix Parental Tools, here.
As part of the larger Google ecosystem, YouTube settings have a range of different tiers and access. For younger kids, you might use YouTube Kids; for older kids (under 13), you might set up a YouTube Supervised Experience; and for kids over 13 you can turn on Restricted Mode.
Grant access via Family Link> your child’s profile> Manage settings> Youtube (To set up Family Link, check out last month’s newsletter.)
YouTube Kids app and web experience includes popular kids content in a safe and easy-to-use format. You can additionally decide:
- Choose a content level setting
- Choose whether your kid can use the search function in YouTube Kids
- Block and unblock videos
YouTube Supervised Experience:
Set parameters via Family Link> your child’s profile> Manage settings> Youtube> Edit> choose changes> Select
For children under 13, parents can set different degrees of access. The supervised experience allows:
- Choose between 3 YouTube content level settings: Explore, Explore more, or Most of YouTube.
- Pause Watch or Search history.
- Unblock videos: Clear the selection of videos and channels you blocked on YouTube Kids.
Children over 13 are not eligible for YouTube Kids or Supervised Experience. Instead, they can be prevented from accessing most mature content by turning on Restricted Mode.
Family Link App> Settings> Manage Settings> Filters on YouTube> Turn Restricted Mode On.
Read all about YouTube settings, here.
Amazon Prime Video:
There are two ways kids engage with Amazon media content, via Amazon Kids+ (a paid service) or via regular Amazon Prime Video.
If you’ve created an Amazon Kids+ account, you can access the Parent Dashboard via https://www.amazon.com/parentdashboard/intro
Amazon Kids+ is a paid service with books, videos, educational material and games curated for children. It uses a centralized Parent Dashboard to allow for:
- Setting time limits on usage by category (e.g., allow more reading while restricting video time)
- Setting age filters on content
- Monitoring activity
- Setting educational goals
Amazon Prime Video
Access on the web via Prime Video> Settings Icon> Settings> Parental Controls.
Prime Video Settings use a PIN code to allow parents to:
- Select an age range and apply those settings to the devices you specify
- Limit the ability to make in-app purchases
For more about Parental Tools for Prime Video, read here. Amazon Fire Devices and Microsoft XBOX 360 both require you to use the settings on those devices.
6 Principles to Online Safety
No matter where you are in the process of understanding online safety challenges and implementing strategies in your home, these guiding principles may be helpful to keep in mind as you build your Online Safety Toolkit.
Begin with Offline Safety
There are many skills that you can teach your children offline that can carry over into their digital lives. Learning about bodily autonomy, boundaries, and red flags of manipulation can help kids understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and communication and set boundaries. When they feel empowered to set boundaries, they are less susceptible to grooming by online predators.
Define Your Boundaries
Online safety practices vary depending on kids’ ages and the views within each family. Take time to think and talk through what online safety will mean for your family. This helps make the most out of parental tools and helps your kids understand how specific boundaries fit into your larger family rules and values.
Use Parental Tools, Not Controls
Existing parental settings and applications are meant to provide protection, not control. Consider framing the applications and settings available to yourself and your family as a way to practice online safety rather than getting into power struggles with your kids. Just as we don’t consider having kids wear helmets to be an act of control, neither is utilizing the tools for online safety.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
We want our kids to come to us with even their biggest problems. Practice thanking your kid for sharing with you and consider the benefits and costs of consequences when they make mistakes. If you decide an online behavior warrants a consequence, consider something other than taking away the Internet or the device, which might make them less likely to come to you in the future.
Teach the Importance
Kids who understand the Internet and how to use it responsibly will be less likely to do something that they may regret in the future, and they are more likely to grow into adults that feel confident in their responsible use of the Internet.
Keeping kids safe online is an ongoing process. Applications, games, and social trends are ever-shifting, so meeting the current needs for safety must also be a flexible process. Remember that you do not have to know everything about every application to keep your family safe.
In online safety, there can be a dizzying array of concerns and potential solutions. The principles here are a foundation for you to build your Online Safety Toolkit.
Plugged In: The Growing Risk of Online Sextortion
– with Internet Safety Specialist Joe Dugan, Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
Sextortion is a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material unless you provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money. Sextortion can happen across all platforms and the scenario is pretty much the same.
Most victims of sextortion are teenage girls, but here in Maryland we’ve seen some areas of the state with an increase of teenage boys becoming victims. These boys think they are communicating with a teenage girl, who then convinces them to send explicit images or videos. Whereas girls are usually sextorted for more explicit imagery, boys are typically extorted for money, and the sextortionists are quite often located outside the U.S.
When our children fall prey to a sextortionist, it can be a horror that seems to have no end. The best way to protect our children is by being a part of your child’s life and keeping the lines of communication open. If you are a part of your child’s life, they may feel more comfortable coming to you with their problems. If your child does come to you with a problem like this, remember they are the victim and that moving forward as a team will be best for everyone.
Each month in our Plugged In section, Internet Safety Specialist Joe Dugan brings you important information from the front lines of web safety. Joe is a retired Detective who now works with the Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.”