Sunday, October 23, 2011

YouTube Space Lab: Kid-Designed Experiments on the ISS

Please follow the link to my latest blog on the Connecticut Hearst Media Group.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Getting a Handle on Facebook Settings for You and Your Kids

Image by Paul Klintworth

If recent stories about Facebook's new features have you questioning your own account settings or if you are concerned about the safety of your kids on Facebook, pull up a chair and let's walk through some steps you can take to reclaim your privacy. Keep in mind that Facebook's own Terms of Service restrict accounts to those over 13. As a middle school library media specialist, I know that there are many students with accounts who do not meet the age requirement. As a mom, I know how important it is to stay involved with your children's online activities. For the record, I have a Facebook account that I use daily. It is a great way to keep up with friends and relatives and I do my best to stay on top of the security settings. However, Facebook continually updates the services, so the settings are a bit of a moving target.
With the availability of mobile devices and wifi connections, online safety begins with your Internet connection. Unfortunately, account hijacking happens. One of the easiest things you can do to keep your account information safe is to switch to secure browsing by typing https:// instead of simply http:// in your browser's address bar. This tip can be used with many other websites; give it a try and update your bookmarks. Another simple idea is to name your devices within Facebook and set up an email alert when your account is accessed. Let's set both of these options now:
Click the arrow in the upper right > Click Account Settings > Click Security > Look at Secure Browsing and click Edit > Select the check box > Save Changes > Now look at Login Notifications and click Edit > Select the check box to be notified > Save Changes
Image by ssoosay
If you look down that list to the final item, Active Sessions, you can check to make sure that you are the only one accessing your account. If you see something on that list that isn't you, clicking End Activity will shut them down. Of course, you'll want to change your password, too.
Whether you use Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome or another browser, they will all provide you with another measure of security. Cookies are computer snippets that allow websites to keep information about you and your browsing. If you've ever seen a form filled out automatically as you type, you can thank cookies for the convenience. You can typically manually delete cookies by clicking on the browser name at the upper left corner of your browser window and then clicking preferences. If the browser permits private browsing, you will want to select that as well.

Image by Paul Klintworth

What comes to your mind when you think about the term 'status symbol'? Sports cars? A great house? Fabulous shoes? For many of our kids, the number of names in their Facebook friends list fits the bill. "You only have 100 friends? I have 200." As adults we have an easier time recognizing that our social lives have many layers and that not everything should be shared with everyone.
One of the ways that Facebook allows you to customize sharing is with their privacy settings. These can be set to Friends Only (only those who are in your friend list), Friends of Friends (those in your list and in the lists of all of your friends - think how many people that could be), and Everyone (be warned, this is everyone online, not just on Facebook).
Look for the triangle in the upper right corner of your Facebook screen and select Privacy Settings. Locate 'How You Connect' and click edit. You can then select the settings you feel comfortable with.
Now let's think about your posts and who gets to see them; this is important not only for our kids but for us. We want our close friends to see the photos of our kids, but people at work? Probably not. Creating lists allows you to limit your posts to an appropriate audience. There are a few standard lists, such as Family, that can be automatically populated. However, you can create as many as you like. I have lists for family, close friends, acquaintances and work.
Look for 'Lists' in the left-hand column and click 'More'. To edit an existing list, click on it. To create a new list, select that option and give it a name. Find 'Manage List' in the upper right corner. By selecting 'Choose Update Types', you can decide what postings you will see from the people on that list. To limit the audience for a posting you create, click the arrow in the 'Update Status' box and select the lists appropriate for your post.
There have been many emails and postings about Facebook implementing a subscription fee to use their service. They aren't doing that nor do they need to. Facebook is full of advertisers that are happy to have access to millions of potential customers. Remember that your information is not limited to your account and advertisers use this to their advantage. This applies not only to ads but to the applications and games. You could have your account locked down tight, but if your friends' sites aren't, then advertisers have access to your information. While I can appreciate the well-placed ad for something I can use, I prefer to err on the side of caution and restrict their access.
To turn off the 'Info accessible through your friends', click on the arrow in the upper right corner. Select 'Privacy Settings', click 'Apps and Websites' and then select that option. While you are in that menu, you may wish to opt out of the 'Instant Personalization' and delete any apps that you don't need. The last option from this menu is extremely important; make sure that the box for 'Enable public search' is left UNchecked.
Image by DonkeyHote
Perhaps the hardest thing for our kids to understand is that posting online means you have no expectation of privacy. Anything posted, regardless of the carefully crafted private list, can be copied, downloaded, shared. Their addresses, hometowns, phone numbers, schools, and birthdays should not be posted online. Yes, it is fun to have all of those birthday wishes, but your close friends know when it is without Facebook having to tell them. It would be too easy to find out where they are and provides the perfect information for identity thieves. Unfortunately, one of the most fun and interactive features of Facebook is also one that exposes us the most: tagging. You can be tagged in photos, videos, notes, and posts which means that your friends and their friends can see those posts. How many of those people would you actually know? How many would you feel comfortable sharing an embarrassing photo with? Thankfully, you can set Facebook to ask before allowing a tag to go public. You can also opt out of a new feature that relies on facial recognition. This is important because Facebook's servers, full of millions of images, are suggesting photos of you (or people who look like you) to your friends and encouraging them to tag you.
Click on the arrow at the upper right corner and select 'Privacy Settings'. Select edit next to 'How tags work' and set profile and tag reviews to on. Set your 'Maximum profile visibility' to friends and leave 'Tag suggestions' off. The last category is also important. Checking into places means that you are posting your location. If you decide that this is ok to allow, I suggest that you turn off the option to have friends check you in places. It is extremely important that you UNcheck the box that says “include me in ‘people here now’ after I check in”. This would broadcast your child's location to everyone else at that location.
Facebook is fun. I have been able to keep in touch with friends I haven't seen in years. It allows me to see those adorable pictures of my friends' children and to connect with people who have shared interests. The important thing to remember is to keep talking with your kids about their online activity and to use common sense in what you post and who you allow to see it. If there are any other major changes to Facebook, I will keep you updated.