New Snapchat feature shares user location. Is that OK for privacy and security?

Snapchat has a new feature that allows users to see where their friends are posting from. But this new location sharing feature has some concerned about privacy, and broader implications like stalking and bullying.  The good news is you can disable it. Check out these stories for more information on how to do that:

Is Snapchat safe for my teen?

I’ve been hearing about an app called Snapchat for about a year now. I am not a user of the app myself, but it has made a lot of waves and is particularly popular among teenagers. Snapchat allows users to send pictures, videos and messages which only last for a few seconds (between 1 and ten) and then the media disappears, leaving no digital trace (or does it? more on that in a minute). It’s touted for enabling “spontaneity” and allows the user to experience things in “real time.”

Unknown-2How many people are using Snapchat now? The most recent statistics I can find put the average number of monthly users at 100 million. And according to this video, it is THE social app to look out for because it “murders Facebook” (their words, not mine). While I’m often leery of big proclamations about the “next big thing” in anything, there is no denying that Snapchat is making an impression on a younger demographic and is worth some discussion.

Snapchat’s largest base of users are between 13 and 23. That means if you have a teenager, there is a good chance he or she is either using it already, or has friends that do. So, what’s important to know about this app?

1.) It has a reputation as the “sexting” app

Because the pictures and video have a limited shelf life, it is desirable because users assume that means they are leaving no digital trace of their naughty pics and messages.  But there ARE WAYS to save the images and messages, including using another phone to take a picture of it, or with a simple screenshot. Users should never ASSUME anything about their digital footprint. Advise your family members who may use this app that they should follow the same rules as other social media – never post something you don’t want the world to see.

2.) It can be used for bullying

Again, because of the limited shelf life of the media, some report Snapchat has been used for harassment and bullying. Ask your teen if they are aware of any of this behavior. Ask if they have witnessed or been subjected to it. Remind them that you won’t allow bullying and that they should speak to an adult if they are being harassed or know someone involved in bullying.

3.) It carries similar risks as other social media when it comes to strangers

Teen users especially should keep their network of friends on Snapchat to actual real-life friends – and only friends they really trust, as the fleeting nature of teen friendships could mean a controversial picture could come back to haunt them. Advise your teen NOT to connect with strangers or mere acquaintances on Snapchat – or any social media for that matter.

4.) It allows them to easily hide conversations from parents

If you have a “we will monitor regularly” type agreement with your child with regard to their device and online activity, then Snapchat is going to make that very difficult. Checking histories and message archives won’t reveal much because of the limited shelf life of conversations and pictures. If you are concerned about secrecy with your teen, consider making this app off limits.

As always, I’d like to remind you again that a conversation is your best security defense.  We can’t keep new apps and devices out of our kids’ hands forever, nor do we want to.  But understanding what is going on with newer, hotter apps, games and devices is what is going to help you guide your child in their growth as a secure and civil online citizen.







Cyberbullies move to text messages

A new study in the latest print edition of the Journal of Pediatrics finds text messaging has become an increasing venue for cyber bullying.

The study, which included 1,588 young people aged 10 to 15 who answered questions online in 2006, 2007, and 2008 as part of the Growing Up with Media survey,  found that while rates of violent exposures and experiences online have leveled off, more kids are being harassed or bullied via text message.

According to the study, rates of text messaging among adolescents increased from 59% in 2008 to 72% in 2009, while rates of Internet use remained stable at 93% from 2006 to 2008.

“It may be because aggressive behavior is shifting from online to text messaging or it may be because text messaging is relatively new and we’re all figuring out how to communicate well using it; in this case, rates should stabilize as we become more familiar with it,” says study researcher Michele Ybarra MPH, PhD, of Internet Solutions for Kids, Inc. in San Clemente, Calif.

Parents can also use filtering software to prevent children from accessing inappropriate web sites, but no such technology is available for cell phone texting yet, she said.

Read more on WebMD:

The Bullying Academy

Do you have a bullying awareness program in your local schools?  More communities are creating educational programs around bullying, and cyberbullying, in response to the alarmingly high-rate of incidents that are being reported around the country.

If you don’t have a local program, there are now many online resources to check out for information. In fact, a New York University law school student and an openly gay man has launched an online program called The Bullying Academy that addresses the issues around bullying and looks into ways kids, parents and educators can stop and prevent it. The Bullying Academy was created by Walser as a free online resource designed to help parents, students and teachers deal with the dangers associated with bullying and cyber-bullying.

According to a release from the folks behind the program, the person who launched the program, Tommy Walser, has watched in shock and anger as it seems like every week a new suicide is being committed due to bullying and cyber-bullying.

“Cyber-cruelty is rapidly increasing in volume and complexity because adolescents and teens are never taught how to act responsibly and appropriately while communicating online or via other electronic devices,” said Walser.

Tommy, now 23, is proud of his sexuality, but growing up it was a different story.  He admits that as an adolescent and teen, he was picked on by others for being “different.”  He decided to channel his experience into something positive by creating a program to educate kids before bullying reaches a critical point.

The Bullying Academy does not require any additional software or extensive training. Schools register with the organization’s website and students immediately have access to the program. The Bullying Academy provides a professionally developed curriculum and grade appropriate content to engage students through a scavenger hunt composed of lessons and learning links, as well as utilizing quizzes which function as assessments.  The program has been designed with a pre- and post-quiz so that participants can measure what was learned about bullying and its ramifications.

There are also contests for schools that participate, whereby the winning school gets a trophy, pizza party and certificate for the teacher. Any students who complete the program will also receive a diploma that ranges from gold to bronze depending on score. Students learn:

  • Characteristics and risk factors common to bullies
  • What bullies look for in victims
  • How to recognize the short- and long-term effects of bullying on victims and bullies
  • How to properly respond and report bullying
  • How to avoid violence while standing up for each other
Check out The Bullying Academy and see if there is some good information on there you can share with your kids, community or local educators.

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