Parents often hand their kids a mobile device without understanding exactly what it can do, said Dale Harkness, a technology director at Richmond-Burton Community High School in Richmond, Ill. He estimates that even without using social media services, the average high school student probably transmits some 150 texts a day.
“It’s not anything that every parent and grandparent hasn’t already seen,” Harkness said. The problem, he adds, is that actions “get documented, replayed and sent around.” He said that students “forget how fast it moves and how far it goes.”
There are general security concerns, too. F-Secure, a cybersecurity company, said some new social networking services have become targets for spreading malicious hacker software and propagating scams.
Online services also routinely collect personal data, such as a person’s birthdate or the location of their phone, and they commonly share the information with third parties for marketing. While a new rule by the Federal Trade Commission this year is aimed at keeping advertisers from tracking kids younger than 13, most social media services require that a user specify he is at least 13, exempting the account from the tougher privacy restrictions.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., co-chairman of a House caucus on privacy issues, said legislation should give kids under 15 the right to delete photos or texts that wind up elsewhere online. The prospect, however, is unlikely in a Congress dominated by debates on federal spending and gun control, and raises practical questions about how such a law could be implemented or enforced.
“Nobody should be penalized for something they posted when they were 9 years old,” Markey said.
Levey links her kids’ devices to her iTunes account so she’s aware of programs they install. She also requires that her kids make their accounts accessible to her and follow certain ground rules: protect your passwords, set privacy controls and never transmit inappropriate pictures or words.
A big hurdle for parents is overcoming the idea they are invading their kids’ privacy by monitoring online activity, she said. In fact, she said, it can be the kid’s first lesson that hardly anything online is private, anyway.
“If they want privacy,” she said, “they should write in a journal and hide it under their mattress.”