Safety of social networking sites is concern to parents
BY CASEY SMITH World Staff Writer
Sunday, December 23, 2012
12/23/12 at 8:00 AM
Read the complete “Parents, Teens and Online Privacy” survey report.
Steve Kunzweiler is concerned about his children's - and all children's - use of social networking sites.
"When I grew up, the scary people of the world were Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer," Kunzweiler said. "Those people didn't have cell phones or the Internet to access your records."
Kunzweiler is chief of the criminal division in the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office. He is also the father of three daughters between the ages of 12 and 22.
"It's so much more frightening for me as a prosecutor, knowing what I know about the ease of which information can be obtained about young children and manipulated to put that child in a position of danger," Kunzweiler said.
High on his list of concerns about content sometimes made available are pictures that reveal the vulnerabilities of home environments, he said.
Examples Kunzweiler gave of pictures "ripe for disaster" are photographs of young people at home with their families or hanging out at a friend's house.
The changes Instagram proposed to its terms of service last week are a reminder of the vulnerabilities users of social networking sites may expose themselves to that exist, along with the benefits they gain. The photo-sharing site owned by Facebook later said it would rescind changes that implied it could sell users' pictures to advertisers without their knowledge.
Parents worried about the impact social networking sites could have on the safety and reputations of their children and teens make up a significant portion of those concerned about possible privacy risks connected to the sites.
A survey released in November by Pew Research Center and Berkman Center for Internet and Society studied the issue. The survey found 59 percent of parents whose teens used social networking sites talked with their child because they were concerned about something posted to the child's profile or account.
"I was surprised the extent to which these conversations are happening and the extent to which parents are using social media websites themselves," said Mary Madden, a Pew Center research associate and lead author on the report. Communication between parents and teens about content are happening in the home and on the social networking sites themselves, Madden said. The survey found 66 percent of parents of 12- to 17-year-olds use a social networking site, up from 58 percent in 2011.
Increased popularity of the sites and parents who have created their own accounts have raised some parents' awareness, Madden said.
"Parents didn't have so much of a sense of kind of the information involved, but now they have a front row seat to what is being posted and what vulnerabilities there are."
Parental concerns about their teens' use of social networking sites include their child's interaction with strangers and the impact posts could have on potential employers and college admissions boards, Madden said.
Paul Stephens, the director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, identifies risks of social networking sites for people of all ages. But there are two unique risks for children and teens using the sites, he said.
Children tend to be more impressionable or vulnerable than adults, and there is probably more opportunity for predators, Stephens said.
The organization provides information to and advocacy for consumers in areas that include technology's impact on personal privacy.
Stephens suggests parents manage risk by talking to their children about the importance of being judicious with information they share, even if their peers are not.
Communication is the main tactic Kunzweiler uses to minimize his concerns about his daughters' use of social networking sites.
"It's easy for me because I'm a prosecutor," he said. "I take the stories home, I tell them real stories of real cases of children who are victimized."
It's vital that parents talk about online safety with their children, he said.
"Technology is moving at the speed of light and parenting has to keep pace with the pace of technology," he said. "It's not an excuse to say 'Gee, I don't understand that.' Your child is your most valuable possession, you should protect that like the most precious thing in the world."
Kunzweiler occasionally gives school presentations on social networking and online safety.
The Pew survey found 39 percent of the parents of teen users of social networking sites have helped their child set up privacy settings.
Users should read sites' privacy policies, Stephens said. He suggests users set their privacy settings as high as possible but says even then users might not be protecting their privacy to the extent they think they are.
Even if a user's account can't be directly hacked, it might be possible for a hacker to access the account of another user who has permission to view personal information, Stephens said.
A recent study out of Carnegie Mellon University found another possible counter to the protection of privacy settings - the way human beings think.
"The main implication we draw from our studies is these technologies of social networks that give users all of these privacy controls that are very granular can backfire," said Laura Brandimarte, a post-doctoral student and one of the study's authors.
"They will feel comfortable disclosing anything, even personally identifiable information."
The study found the control privacy settings give users over who can access their content make them think less about what they post and what parties with permission to access their content could do with the information.
Often they post more information than they normally would, decreasing the amount of privacy they actually have.
People can use awareness of the aspect of human nature to their advantage by refocusing their attention from the hyper-specific privacy controls to how people may use the information they post, Brandimarte said.
Her research has changed the amount and type of information Brandimarte, 31, posts on her own social networking site accounts, she said.
"They're really good for communication, but for anything else, you have to consider the consequences."
Original Print Headline: Exposure of social sites is concern to parents
Casey Smith 918-732-8106