So you want to meet up with someone you met online… Taking the Stranger Danger discussion to the next level

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

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Today’s children are considered ‘Digital Natives’ because they were literally born into a world defined by technology, but are actually “Digital Naives.” Without intervention, children completely lack an understanding of the implications of their digital actions.

We tell kids that they should NEVER meet-up with a person they met online and that someone you don’t know in real life is ALWAYS a stranger (because you can’t confirm who they really are). But, let’s face it, the internet is about making connections.

From dating sites to Craigslist and special interest chat groups, adults regularly make online connections that turn into physical world connections. At some point, children will have legitimate reasons to make these connections too. Even if that some point is when they go off to college, the adults in children’s lives need to model behavior that ensures safety in the digital world. Here are tips for staying safe when meeting and talking to unknown people online.

While you can never guarantee anything you do will keep you 100 percent safe, there are certain precautions you should consider if you really want to meet up with someone you met via tech.

  • Ask them to Facetime, use Google Hangouts, or another social media app with live chat. If they refuse or can’t for some reason, ask them to send you a selfie with something that shows the day’s date and time. If they also refuse to do this or can’t send a selfie, do not meet up with them! Ask yourself, why would they be refusing to prove who they really are?

But is this enough to keep you safe? Unfortunately not.

Woman charged in DeKalb dating app murder to face judge

The details of this story are disheartening. After they met online, they spoke on the phone and they live streamed. He verified it was really her before agreeing to meet-up in real life. And he brought someone with him for extra safety. And despite these precautions, he is now dead because he met up with a stranger he met online.

So let’s add the most important safety tip….

  • When you arrange to meet-up NEVER go alone and be sure to meet-up in a PUBLIC PLACE.
  • Tell the person that “I’m bringing along my friend (or insert name of trusted adult) too. Just giving you a heads-up! If you are as paranoid as me and you have someone coming too, they could sit together!”

If you are under the age of 18, these are not merely suggestions. You MUST bring a trusted adult with you IF this trusted adult APPROVES of the meet-up.

If any of your plans are not accepted by your “new online friend”, STOP COMMUNICATING. Time to go into BLOCK mode on your accounts for this “person.”

There is one TRUTH you need to remember. Parents, teach your children this! When meeting and talking to unknown people online, your safety and comfort should be important to them. It will be important to any good person you meet online who wants to meet up IRL.

The reality is that it’s a dangerous world out there. Even following these tips cannot guarantee your safety.

Don’t be the next headline. Talk to the trusted adults in your life, use good judgement and stay safe out there.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.

Protecting yourself from spammers

By James Burns, Product Manager

Spam continues to be one of the great banes of the internet age.  Billions of dollars are spent every year to fight spam.  Despite that great expenditure, there are many things you can do to help fight spam.  Having a strong password will prevent spammers from gaining access to your account and using it to message others.  Not responding to spam will prevent spammers from confirming your address is a legitimate email that can be spammed later.  You can also take advantage of the tools EarthLink offers you to combat spam.

Utilize EarthLink’s spamBlocker to identify and block spam before it gets in your Inbox.  EarthLink spamBlocker provides two different levels of spam prevention.  Known spam blocking uses various methods to identify and block common types of spam.  Messages flagged as spam are moved to a self-cleaning Known Spam folder in WebMail.  By default, Known Spam is deleted immediately, but you can change the settings if you would like the opportunity to review these messages before they are deleted.

EarthLink’s spamBlocker also offers a Suspect Email option that offers a much stronger way to manage spam.  The Suspect Email option compares all inbound mail to the addresses in your WebMail Address Book.  If the sender is not in your Address Book, the message will be moved to the Suspect Email folder in WebMail.  While a very strong option, Suspect Email requires you to closely monitor and review email in the Suspect Email folder.  When a new message comes in from someone you want to be able to email you in the future, you will need to add that sender to your Address Book.  Suspect Email makes it easy to move an email to your inbox and add the sender to your Address Book.

A third unique option offered by EarthLink is our Anonymous Email product.  Anonymous Email gives you up to 10 temporary use email addresses that you can use to sign up for websites where you are concerned you may get spammed later.  These addresses are listed in WebMail as individual inboxes and can be deleted and replaced if they start getting spammed.  You can add Anonymous Email addresses in your WebMail Preferences section.

Just In Time For Back-To-School… Hardware-Based Parental Controls For Today’s Connected Home

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

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When we talk about outside information exposure and its impact on our kids, it helps to take a step back to when we were younger (yes, I am showing my age.). Our parents had to manage several input sources: friends and family that visited, newspapers, magazines, T.V., phone calls, fax messages, and VHS/Laser Disc/DVDs — along with audio cassettes/CDs and books purchased, rented, or borrowed from the library. Later, if your family was lucky enough to have one of the first computers to gain access to information — while only accessible over a really slow modem, your parents then had a new set of enormous input implications. Watch War Games if you want to see an older computer getting online and a negative implication caused by a curious teen.

The difference between then and now is that with the prior information sources, much of the information was based on proactive information gathering. Think of it as a “pull” to access information.  For today’s parent, the evolution of all the prior technologies has resulted in “push” enabled technologies that expose our children to all the world has to offer — both good and bad.

Most every device parents purchase today, beyond traditional computers, tablets, and smartphones, is Internet-enabled, from thermostats (Nest, Honeywell), gaming platforms (Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo), TVs (almost all of them!), home assistants (Alexa, OK Google, Hey Siri), home appliances, and even children’s cuddly toys (!) are connected to the Internet and information is always available all of the time (and let’s not forget the privacy implications of devices because they are always listening – topic for another post). Whew, that’s a lot for a parent to consider in today’s age of digital parenting.

There is a class of parental control options that can help parents raise their children in a world filled with ‘always on and connected’ devices. Admittedly, it is hard to find any set of parental control devices where you can compare apples to apples. Each hardware solution was built to fulfill a specific set of requirements that the company deemed to be the most desirable by its intended users. But some comparable features do exist across the solutions that are available for parents to use in their home.

While there are several hardware-based parental control options for today’s connected home, such as Torch, KoalaSafe, Screen, router based options, and OpenDNS, I am going to focus on selected aspects of two solutions: Circle and Luma.

Both Circle and Luma address the two most common pain points I hear from parents. Without fail, during and after the parent cyber ethics sessions I facilitate via Savvy Cyber Kids, parents always bring up the same two biggest issues:

  • Getting their kids to put the devices down (technology addiction issues – again topic for another post); and
  • Limiting exposure to inappropriate content such as pornography, violence, among other categories (also known as content filtering).

For both Circle and Luma, you will begin by creating a profile for each member of your family. Then you assign child-specific parental controls based on aspects unique to each child such as age, maturity, etc. Here’s a glimpse at how our two featured products address these common digital parenting issues:

Limiting Screen Time Without Having An Argument Every Time:

To do this, both Luma and Circle allow you to set a bedtime in their accompanying apps. You can set a different bedtime for each member of your household. In this context, “bedtime” means the time when the internet stops working on your child’s device. So while you may have some initial discussions and negotiations on when connected time should end in the beginning, these devices help you digitally parent by enforcing a technology bedtime rule.

Preventing Your Child From Being Exposed To Inappropriate Materials, For Each Child:

You can set content filter levels specific for each child. In Circle the categories for assignment are Pre-K, Kid, Teen, and Adult. For Luma, the categories follow more of the movie industry rating system of G, PG, PG-13, R, and U (unrated or unrestricted access).

Although content filtering sounds fantastic, if you try and restrict your child to a low filter rating, many of the games they play, apps they use, and sites they visit may not work. This is because many of the sites, apps, etc. are supported by ad networks that register as a higher filter rating than the content your child is actually trying to access. In addition, your rating of a site, app, or game may be different than the company’s content filter that you are using. In other words, this is a highly subjective process that is challenging to automate.

Here’s some differences between the two solutions that may help you choose:

  • For the Circle, there is an app called Circle Go (additional subscription fee required) that extends your home parental controls to your children’s phones and devices when they are NOT on your home Wi-Fi network.
  • For Luma, if you have any Wi-Fi dead spots in your home, Luma actually acts as a Wi-Fi enhancement solution. Weak Wi-Fi in one room? Add a Luma. Weak Wi-Fi in another area of the home (or outside!) add another Luma.

All parents need to understand that parental controls will never work as you hope they will 100% of the time. What does that mean? All parental controls should be used as an aid in digital parenting and NOT as a digital babysitter.

Where we stand: Our commitment to Our Customers

Net Neutrality and Internet Privacy have become popular talking points and we understand there may be confusion about these topics. As your Internet service provider, we wanted to remind our customers of our commitment to our customers’ privacy, as well as where we stand in regards to Net Neutrality. EarthLink supports an open internet and values our customers’ ability to access the world. We do not block or slow down any internet traffic such as streaming or web browsing.

We also wanted to remind our customers that EarthLink does not collect and sell our customers’ information to anyone, including third parties. You can read more about this topic on our Customer Privacy support page.

Above all, we are committed to protecting our customers’ privacy on our network today and well into the future. We stand by our mission to provide a fast, secure, and reliable high speed connection and to allow our customers to do everything they love on the Internet, without interference.

Thanks for being our customer.