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Issue #17: November 15, 2007

Q: For several years, I have read news articles and heard stories about children who met with strangers via internet and have found themselves in harms way. I want to protect mine from doing the same. Can you tell me how a parent goes into the computer to monitor their childrens activities?

– J.C.
Defuniak Springs,FL

 A: You have touched one of the hot button topics of life in the modern digital age, J.C.  I’ve talked often in this space about “bad guys” lurking on the internet, waiting to deluge you with SPAM e-mail, or steal your identity.  But there’s a whole other class of nefarious people out there, trying to strike up relationships with our kids for heaven only know what purpose.  Parents must take an active role in monitoring and if necessary, restricting their kids’ online activities to prevent them from coming to harm.

 The question is, how to do this?  Well, you mentioned monitoring, but I believe the first step is education.  If your kids are old enough to use the internet, they ought to be old enough for you to have a frank and open conversation with them.  Google “online predator” and show them some of the stories of what goes on in the world, and let them know that the victims are normal everyday kids just like them, and the same thing could happen to them.  Talk to them about what they do online, and who their friends are.  Ensure they understand that your rules about not talking to strangers apply to people online too.  Make sure they are not posting personal information that could enable an online predator to track them down.

 The next step is monitoring.  The simplest form of monitoring is to simply not allow your child to use the computer unsupervised, or in a private place.  Don’t put computers in kids’ rooms, or other places where you can’t directly observe their activities.

 For the times when you can’t be directly present, install a filtering product or service on all the computers in your home.  The sheer number of these products (a testament to the severity of the problem) prevents me from even beginning to list them here.  Visit GetNetWise.org to read about these products, and what they can do for you.  Remember that these tools are only a backup!  Don’t rely on exclusively on technology to do your job of protecting your kids.

 I do not personally advocate these last steps, but if you have a troubled child whom you believe to be at risk, and all the above methods have failed, you may have to take more drastic measures.  Some might call it snooping, or spying, so it’s up to you to draw the line at what you’re willing to do in the name of protecting your kids.  There are a bevy of keystroke loggers, and other capture devices and software that can help to give you an pretty good idea of what your computer is being used for when you’re not looking.  Check out SnoopStick.com, refog.com, spyarsenal.com for examples, or Google “Keystroke Logger”.  Tread carefully here, as recording or monitoring without the other party’s knowledge or consent may be illegal.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Today’s tip comes courtesy of Kay B., of Niceville,FL who wrote to remind us that when disposing of old computer hardware (as discussed in last week’s column) you should be careful about data that may be left behind on the hard drive.  If you keep sensitive financial records or other personal data on your computer, you should take extra steps to make sure all data have been cleared off before the computer leaves your possession.  Many people forget or don’t bother to delete their data files, but even those who do aren’t in the clear.  Deleted files can be recovered fairly easily by those who know how.  There are utilities available that will repeatedly overwrite the drive with patterns of ones and zeros that make it much more difficult, if not impossible to recover old data.


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