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Father’s Day Gift – Keeping your kids safe with Mobile Social

Happy Father’s Day. Now back to being a Father.

As a Father, I am frequently amazed at the number of unknown and undiscovered dangers that are out there on the internet for our kids. Mobile Social meaning mobile social media, gaming, and apps that enable social networking from a mobile device is the newest danger.

This latest danger is the ability to track our kids, know where they live, what interests they have, where they frequent, and even when they may be alone. Saddest thing is we are enabling this unknowingly with Location Services (GPS tagging) from mobile devices. Telling you this is one thing. However, based on my experience, parents aren’t truly shocked until they see it.

Disclaimer: While the screen captures below are from a real app, the Twitter Handle, location, device, tweet, and picture are completely fictitious. Picture came from ClipArt in Word. I will not mention the apps on the web that enable this view.

My Discovery Story

As an Assistant Scout Master of a nearby Boy Scout Troop and being a highly technical fellow, I volunteered to teach the Scout Computer Merit Badge. One of the requirements is for tips on online safety. However, having a child that just recently joined Facebook and got a phone, I thought adding an additional topic about Mobile Safety was critical to safety.

My concern over Mobile Safety was due to my first hand experience of how teens and pre-teens use mobile devices and was confirmed by some great articles on Social Mobile usage: http://techcrunch.com/2011/10/18/meeker-mobile-pandora-twitter-square/ and http://www.underworldmagazines.com/social-media-mobile-devices/

These articles put usage of Social Media from Mobile devices between 30% and 60%!

With so much of those interactions coming from Mobile devices, I started looking at new threats. I learned there are apps out there that exactly place tweets on a map using the location service (GPS tag) from the social post.

The Danger

My first thought on seeing this new capability of placing social media on a map was: “Cool!”. However, then you start to think like a parent and how this can be used by bad people. Here is the type of information I discovered is using the Social Mapping Apps:

  • Multiple Tweets or Posts from a single location shows places where they frequent and residence or home can be gleaned. Depending on accuracy location within the home can be discovered.
  • Social Posts time stamps tell everyone when they are at that location
  • Social Posts and hash tags tell everyone their interests
  • Social Posts profile picture show everyone what the child may look like
  • Kids “over-share” and tell everyone dangerous information like when they are alone
  • Apps “stamp” the name of the application like “from foursquare”, “Twitter for iPhone”, “from Instagram”, etc. This lets everyone know the other types of virtual social media gather places your child frequents.

For me this was a rude and very disturbing discovery. Now, what can you do to protect your kids

Steps to Keeping your Kids Safe

Ok. Now that you have yanked or pried the mobile phone/device out of your kid’s hand. You should be able to give it back to them with a few preventative steps:

  1. Education – Assuming that if they are old enough to have a mobile device, you can tell your kids about the danger and show them the image above. Believe me they become just as frightened as you are and become their own protectors. Mobile devices aren’t the only places that access your location. Some websites are using location services on computers. Using a safe browser like IE9 that will ask the user to give permission for a website to access your location is very important. To test your browser, go to Bing Maps and/or Google Maps and click the “Click to center the map on your current location” or “Show My Location” icon in the upper left corners of maps. You should see a prompt asking your permission to send your location to the website by the browser. If you don’t see the prompt, your browser may not be up to date or have the ability to block location requests.
  2. Advocate – Be vocal when you talk to mobile vendors about your concerns about location services. Ask them how they are adding features to help keep kids safe from location services exploits. If we all start challenging the status quo, change will happen and solutions will come from industry. Personally, this is only the beginning of my fight to help keep kids safe with new social media and mobile devices.
  3. Keep Researching – While I have tried to do what I think has been lacking in many articles to date, that is “show you the danger”, this post is not the full story. I challenge you to continue to research. Start by reading other dangers here: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/advice-for-parents/gps-tracking-should-your-teens-use-location-services and/or search for more information. My recommended search is “Kids Safety social location services” and/or “Congress inquiry into location services”
  4. Disable or Show your Kid how to Disable Location Services – The key technology is location services. Each phone has the ability to turn off location services. Here are the steps for each popular mobile device:

Let me know what you are doing to help keep your kids safe in this new age of social media and mobile devices.


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Rob Carty

Great round-up of information. This is the key reason I stopped posting photos on Facebook shortly after I started using it. With geotagging of photos in smartphone cameras and new digital cameras, and FB’s sketchy adherence to user privacy and security, we even face a similar risk when we post information about our own children.

Terrance Glover

This article is very insightful. It brings awareness to parents who are not as computer savvy as our childreen. I strongly agree that parents should keep educating and researching. Thanks for sharing.

Dean Halstead

@Rob Very good comment about FB Geotagging. Being more of a Microsoft guy, I use my Windows Phone with sync to SkyDrive. This way I can have a back up of all my photos that is only accessible to me. My rule for FB is to only share with Family and Friends I know due to the privacy issue you point to.

Dean Halstead

@Terrance Thank you. Spending a lot more time “spreading the word” now that my kids are of age. Sharing is caring. 😉