Internet Safety

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Google Implementing Policies to Protect Minors

Google is now blocking gender-, age- or interest-based targeting to children under 18, accepting minors' requests to have images removed from search results, and disabling location history within account settings. The company is also rolling out protections on its YouTube platform, such as defaulting video uploads by kids between 13 and 17 to a private setting and taking "overly commercial content" off of YouTube Kids.


Google says these new changes are based on new regulations being introduced in some countries, and that it wants to offer “consistent product experiences and user controls” globally. Requesting an image’s removal from Google’s image search won’t remove it from the web entirely, Google cautions, but it says this should give users more control over the spread of their images. Alongside its changes to ad targeting, Google also says it’s expanding safeguards to stop “age-sensitive ad categories” from being shown to teens.


The new features are being introduced on different timelines. The option to request that images be removed from Google’s image search, as well as changes to default YouTube video privacy settings, will roll out in the coming weeks. The new restrictions on ad targeting, SafeSearch changes, and tools to block content on Google Assistant-enabled smart devices are launching in the coming months.

Deepfakes – You Can’t Believe Your Eyes

The FBI recently warned in an alert that malicious actors “almost certainly” will be using deepfakes to advance their influence or cyber-operations in the coming weeks and months. The alert notes that foreign actors are already using deepfakes or synthetic media — manipulated digital content including video, audio, images and text — in their influence campaigns. So far, deepfakes have been limited to amateur hobbyists putting celebrities' faces on porn stars' bodies and making politicians say funny things. However, it would be just as easy to create a deepfake of an emergency alert warning of an imminent attack, destroy someone's marriage with a fake sex video, or disrupt a close election by dropping a fake video or audio recording of one of a candidate days before an election.


The FBI warning comes amid concern that if manipulated media is allowed to proliferate unabated, conspiracy theories and maligned influence will become more and more mainstream. Lawmakers have recently enacted a series of laws that address deepfake technology, which frequently is used to harass women, through the creation of fake pornographic videos with the targets of harassment seemingly appearing in the footage. There are no limits to the places people can take things: recently a mother created a deepfake pornographic video of her daughter’s rivals on her cheerleading squad to discredit them.

Teachers Need More Cybersecurity Training

A recent survey found that found high numbers of K-12 teachers are unfamiliar with the various forms of cyberattacks. For example, 48 percent of K-12 educators said they had no familiarity with "videobombing." Likewise, the same percentage said they didn't know what denial-of-service attacks were. Four in 10 (41 percent) were unfamiliar with ransomware attacks. More K-12 educators knew something about data breaches (75 percent) and phishing scams (79 percent), but these results show that parents cannot depend on schools and teachers to be up on the latest in cybersecurity threats, and may need to take the responsibility of making their children aware.

YouTube Offers Parents a Way to Monitor a Child’s Activity on the Site

No matter how you look at it, YouTube has become an essential platform for most kids - potentially more important, and more influential, than any other TV channel or network. But YouTube is risky, with content rabbit holes that can take your kids into dangerous, and potentially harmful territory. That’s why YouTube developed YouTube Kids, its dedicated platform for youngsters that runs separate from the main app, and doesn't facilitate links to all YouTube content. However at some point, older kids will be keen to move on, and that can put parents in a challenging position.


To address this, YouTube has developed a new process that will enable parents to monitor their child's YouTube activity via a connected experience, while also giving them more privacy and independence.. Through this new option, parents will be able to choose from three levels of supervision  for their childrens' activity depending on age and maturity. YouTube says that in-app purchases will be disabled within this new experience, as well as creation and comments features, though parents will eventually have variable controls for each element. YouTube also notes that it will continue to evolve the tool over time to improve the options and tools available.

Study: Daily Social Media Use Not Tied to Depression in Teens

A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health evaluated survey data involving close to 75,000 eighth and tenth grade students and found that everyday social media use was not linked to depressive symptoms after accounting for the fact that those with frequent social media use already had worse mental health to begin with. "Daily social media use does not capture the diverse ways in which adolescents use social media, which may be both positive and negative depending on the social context," said senior author Katherine Keyes.

Tweens, Teens, Tech and Mental Health - Tips

The researchers at Common Sense Media have been examining existing studies on kids and mental health and found that, with a few exceptions, we need to look beyond screens and social media for the causes of mental health problems. Check out this video of their findings. They also advise that we should reframe our perspective on digital tools—especially during a pandemic—if we're going to support our kids through this strange phase in our lives. To that end they give six tips for protecting kids' mental health right now. They suggest that it may ne time to recognize that kids may need to enter social media at a younger age just to stay in touch with friends. They also recommend reserving judgement about screen time, keeping in mind that what kids are doing online is more important than the time they spend with digital devices. Beyond these recommendations, it seems most experts are in agreement that more research is necessary.

Internet Safety “Tools” (AKA Parental Controls) You Should Be Thinking About

The old Russian proverb “Trust, but verify” aptly describes the relationship you should ideally have with your kids when it comes their use of digital devices and the Internet. Without a doubt, the most powerful tool you have to keep your kids safe online is your relationship. You want them to know that they can come to you about anyone or anything that bothers them online and have a frank discussion, without blame, about how to handle the situation. But with kids being kids, it could be that they will come across (intentionally or unintentionally) some inappropriate material or situation online. That’s where parental controls come in place. With certain kinds of technology helping to filter and field what they come across, that is much less likely to happen.

So where do you need parental controls? Chances are your tweens and teens are most likely to get into sticky situations when they are away from home using their phone, so the first set of parental controls you need to look into are those afforded by your cell phone manufacturer (Apple or Android, for example) and/or your cell phone carriers. Do a search online for what your specific carrier has to offer by using the name of the service and the search term “parental controls” (many of these also apply to tablets). Both cell manufacturers and cell phone carriers offer parental controls, including the ability to set content filters and disable or limit Internet access or certain apps on Web-enabled phones. Mobile controls can also allow parents to disable, limit, or monitor a child’s texting capability, and picture and video messaging.

There are also a myriad of apps for monitoring your child’s cell phone use. What you need from a parental-control app mainly depends on how old your kids are. If you're the parent of children under 12, you absolutely want to be able to block objectionable websites. If you've got teenagers, you might be ok with just monitoring instead of blocking. You might also want to see who your teens are talking to in messenger apps, or where they are late on a Friday night. And you might want to consider a service that monitors your kids' Windows and Apple devices as well as their smartphones. The best parental control apps will offer, at a minimum, a website filter, location tracking, screen-time limits including a scheduler, and an app blocker.

As far as your laptop and desktop goes, again you may want to look into what your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has to offer by doing a search on their website or by contacting them directly. Depending on what operating system you are using (Windows, Apple, Chrome, etc.), there are parental controls built in as well. Again, doing an online search for your operating system and particular concerns is going to be your best bet for finding what you need to fit your particular purpose. There are just as many apps that you can download for your computer– free and otherwise - as there are for your phones. For your computer you are looking for much the same capabilities as for your phones – a website filter, screen time limits, an app blocker, and the ability to limit certain texting and messaging services.

Kids More Vulnerable to Online Predators During Corona Crisis Says FBI

The FBI is alerting parents, teachers and caregivers to the increased risk of online child sexual exploitation as children spend more time on the Internet while schools are closed because of the coronavirus. The agency urges parents to discuss Internet safety with children and to review the apps, games and websites that are being used. They also suggest parents adjust online settings if they can’t physically watch their children’s online activity. Do an online search to find out how to adjust the privacy settings on the specific devices your children use. Some signs that your child may be in contact with an online predator include increased nightmares, withdrawn behaviors, angry outbursts, anxiety and depression. And in case you need it, here is a checklist of things you should be talking to your kids about Internet safety.

A Technology Company Coalition and Senate Bill Aim at Online Child Abuse

A coalition of Internet companies and social media giants -- Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Roblox, Twitter and Snap -- is backing a set of 11 principles put forth by the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand to fight the spread of online child exploitation. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of US senators has introduced the EARN IT Act, which would allow the government to strip away tech companies' legal immunities for what their users post if the companies fail to crack down on online child sexual abuse.

Online Tutoring Firms Take Steps To Curb Abuse

According to a recent article from Edsurge, at least two online tutoring companies are taking steps to protect students following reports that educators have witnessed students being abused by parents or others during lessons. Qkids has launched a tool to help teachers report unsafe activity they witness during lessons, and VIPKid has added educational videos for parents and others on appropriate discipline.