Do you know where your kids are? Does everyone?
Updated: November 19, 2012 2:08PM
WESTERN SPRINGS — I noticed a somewhat disturbing thing the other day.
I was using the app on my iPhone that I use for Twitter, and I accidentally tapped the “Nearby Tweets” button. I’m not sure I even knew that was an option prior to that accidental tap. And what I found were a bunch of tweets being sent out from right around my neighborhood.
It was a little weird, and it felt like eavesdropping. And then I realized many of them were tweets being directed to members of the currently popular boy-band One Direction, or tweets talking about school. Which meant, most likely (especially considering the profiles and photos of those doing the tweeting), these were kids from the area.
More disturbing? With just a swipe, I was able to see the exact, literally pin-pointed, on a map, location from where these tweets were tweeted.
First, I thought, uh-oh. These kids probably don’t realize that they haven’t turned off their location in the settings of the app they’re using to tweet. Then I thought “Do I have my location turned off?” (Nope). Then I thought “Do MY KIDS have their location turned off?”
A quick check revealed that my kids’ Facebook pages are far more open than they should be (more open than mine is to those not on my friends list). Anyone searching for their names can find out where they go to school, which town they live in, and view photos of them and their friends. That’s going to change pronto.
Now, let me address something right now: I have, in the past, after a column such as this of the “public service announcement” type, received phone calls lamenting that I’m giving criminals ideas.
Please, please trust me. Those who wish to prey on our children already know all of this stuff. They already know how to find kids on social networks who aren’t careful about their privacy settings.
This isn’t just about criminals finding our kids, either. We already hear lots in the news about people who lose jobs because of posts they’ve made on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere. Some of what our kids put up on their social networking pages can and will follow them for life.
I consider myself to be pretty technically savvy, but I’ve certainly failed on the maintaining privacy front as far as my kids and I are concerned, and I actually check my settings regularly. But some of these networks, particularly Facebook, make it far too easy for us to click something, not realizing that we’ve permanently changed our settings.
The networks make it difficult for us to maintain our privacy, and this is compounded by the fact that the settings can be confusing and conflicting, and various mobile apps perform in different ways. We can’t ignore it just because we don’t understand it. Because if we do that, our kids (and ourselves) will continue to broadcast private, sometimes very specific location-based information out to anyone who may seek to do us harm.
I might just have to put together an Internet safety presentation. Anyone interested, please let me know.
Readers can contact Viki Gonia by leaving a message at (708) 824-8027 or by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.