June 28, 2010
The United States Senate has declared June as National Internet Safety Month. The resolutions establishing National Internet Safety Month do not recommend any specific course of action in honor of this designation. Rather, they commend the work that has been done thus far to promote the safety of our nation’s youth online and make a call to increase “efforts to raise the level of awareness in the United States regarding the need for online safety.” 
The goals of the United States Senate were to 1) Raise awareness about Internet safety issues, and 2) challenge each of us to educate ourselves about online safety, and properly educate our nation’s youth to behave responsibly when using the Internet. This resource article will provide you with information to meet the challenge; it features information about some of the most prominent areas in cyberspace where we are vulnerable, and what you can do to minimize your exposure.
Recently, the United States government and various governments in the European Union have taken issue with some of the practices of large, multi-conglomerate Internet companies. Concerns raised by government officials are a result of offenses ranging from the length of time an individual’s information is stored to the intrusive methods used to collect the information.
Known for its search engine functionality, Google, Inc. has diversified offerings that include electronic mail, a street-mapping function, and online document management center. Like any other online conglomerate, Google Inc., has made many tactical decisions to acquire different companies and expand its capabilities to offer its users a more comprehensive experience to search for and manage information on the web. Ultimately, Google is making these moves to stay relevant and competitive in the marketplace.
Just like recent issues raised about the changing privacy policies of social networking giant Facebook, Google has dealt with criticism of how it handles its users’ information – specifically that the company saves individuals’ searches forever. The fact that Google has this information, and is legally able to maintain it as long as they please, makes many individuals and privacy advocates very uncomfortable. Our own federal government is unable to maintain such private and specific information about individuals. However, if they ever needed to access the information maintained by Google and other search engine companies, it could be legally possible.
In 2007, when Google acquired online advertising company DoubleClick, Google’s ability to “record, analyze and track” certain information was called into question, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) requested an investigation of Google’s information collection practices.  Well before the 2007 Google-DoubleClick merger, DoubleClick’s plans to build a database of consumer profiles raised concerns amongst privacy advocates, and those plans would result in less privacy for consumers. 
The first half of this year has been a tough one for Google. In March 2010, The European Union opened an Anti-Trust investigation of the web giant, concerning results displayed by the search engine. Google’s competitors assert that their company names are omitted from search results conducted on Google’s web browser.  Just two months later, Google has come under immense scrutiny in Europe for violating privacy in its efforts to collect data for its street view mapping service. Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin said, “We screwed up,” referring to the company’s act of collecting information from Wi-Fi networks for Street View. 
The most recent privacy-violating snafus by the Internet giant – its launch of social networking component, GoogleBuzz – galvanized privacy officials from 10 countries to co-sign a letter urging Google to build more privacy controls around its many offerings: “It calls on Google to create ‘privacy-protective’ default settings and make it easy for people to delete their accounts, among other measures.”  Users have taken to the blogosphere to discuss how the clash of a privacy-based tool like electronic mail and a social-based application like Buzz are diametrically opposed and don’t have an inherent synergy. 
Amid all the decisions to merge companies and add new functionalities, Internet businesses are simultaneously making changes to their privacy policies and data collection practices. Those changes can result in some of your previously private information being made public…and in some cases lead to potentially dangerous situations in the real world, including identity theft and cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking can take many forms, and many times, victims do not know that they have been cyberstalked until it is too late and the damage has been done. People cyberstalk others to exert power, control or exact revenge. Traditional stalkers are also able to utilize the tools of the web and add to their abilities to physically locate their targets.
As one of the first well-publicized victims of cyberstalking, Jayne Hitchcock became a cyberstalking victim’s advocate, writing a book and establishing a website, www.haltabuse.org as a resource to prevent cyberstalking, and educate individuals who are victims of cyberstalking. Jayne’s story is one that unfortunately, is becoming more common. Her email was hacked and used by a third party to send suggestive emails in spam messages to various people on the web. She began receiving unwanted messages in her email. She and her husband even began receiving items in the mail that they had not ordered. 
-Make sure that all of your accounts are password protected, and change your password often, at least 4 times per year. Email accounts, bank accounts, or any site where you enter sensitive information like your social security number, address, or any financial information should be protected by a password. Your password should be something that no one can guess. This makes it more difficult for cyberstalkers to guess your passwords and hack your accounts.
-Use a national Internet Service Provider (ISP) where possible rather than a local ISP. An Internet Service Provider supplies a connection that allows you to plug into the Internet and surf the web. A local ISP can reveal your physical location, leading a traditional stalker to your doorstep or providing fuel for a cyberstalker to concentrate on making life difficult for you in your hometown. This article provides an overview of regional vs. national ISPs and the pros and cons of each.
-Never respond to any of the messages you receive that are inappropriate or make you feel uncomfortable. You should record the messages and save them in a separate file so that you can have a record for the authorities if the situation escalates to a legal contest.
-If you are transmitting information on a website, make sure it begins with https…https means it’s secure. 
-Make sure the sites where you have social interactions or share information have an anti-harassment policy. If it is violated, be sure to notify the site administrator as well as the ISP on which the harassment occurred.
It is important to talk with your child about the signs of cyberstalking. When interacting with their friends or just conducting their normal socializing online, your child should take note of:
-A sudden increase in unsolicited and inappropriate messages on their email
-Unwanted telephone calls or messages on their social networking profile pages
-Packages or mail delivered to them that they did not order
-Receiving anonymous notes or threats via email, U.S. mail, or notes on their car, school locker, etc.
If any of these things occur, you should:
-Collect all the messages sent to an email or social networking profile site, and properly document the time, date and source of the unsolicited message(s).
-Block the senders address so that they cannot send any additional messages to free email accounts or social networking profile inboxes.
-If blocking the messages does not work, suspend or close any social networking profiles or free email accounts to which the messages are being sent.
-Contact the United States Postal Service or other mail house that is delivering unsolicited packages and mail to your home and alert them to the situation. Make sure they put a flag on your address and clear any packages with you before they deliver them.
-Report the unwanted messages to the sites that they are being posted on, and your Internet Service Provider.
Utilizing a reputable parental controls program to monitor your child’s activities online –especially if you are the parent of a very young minor – can give you added peace of mind. As a parent, you will be able to respond in a timely manner if your child is unable to recognize the signs of cyberstalking, or if they are hesitant to tell you of their trouble. In many instances, time is of the essence when preventing cyber crime from translating into real-world crime. If a parent has information in real-time almost as simultaneously as it is being posted, they can take action quickly to protect their child.
Finally, as a parent, there are steps you can take to insure that your actions do not jeopardize your children. When you post photos of your family or child online, be aware that those photos can be copied and used for purposes other than your intended purpose. Also, photos of your children can possibly attract the attention of child predators. Make sure the photos of your child on the Internet are as innocent as possible, and are posted on a site that has policies in place to respond to your concerns should any occur.
Status functions on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace allow users to keep in close touch and share as much information as often as they would like about where they are going, and what they are doing. Avid users of the ‘status’ applications may opt for Twitter – - where you can update your status, post your thoughts or tell a joke in 140 characters or less – - and link it to your social networking profiles so that everything gets updated simultaneously. One can even update their GPS location via Twitter directly from their cell phone.
Our dependency on technology and our willingness to use technology to open up our accessibility to our networks has its upsides. Finding a missing child or tracking an abduction-in-progress can be achieved more quickly today than 20 years ago. Triangulating cell phone transmissions or sending out an AMBER alert affords authorities an advantage of not losing the time they would have lost before these technological advances. However, where there is a helpful use of a tool, there is often an opportunity for it to be abused.
Similar to traditional stalkers, burglars are only really effective if they know your whereabouts — only burglars don’t want to be where you are; instead, they’d rather be at your home when you are away. Our modern advancements and culture of being open with our information has afforded burglars all the information they need to be successful in their chosen field!
Just this spring, the infamous ‘Bling Ring’ was convicted for burglarizing the homes of young celebrities in Hollywood…and they used social networking to do it: “Their methods were simple. They tracked their victims by using social media, Facebook and Twitter. They know when they were home and when they were away. They even used Google Earth to scope out their homes.” 
The frequency of burglaries occurring as a result of online status postings is on the rise. British insurance company and investment management firm Legal & General conducted a survey and found “nearly 40% of social networking users share holiday plans on sites like Facebook and Twitter. They also found about 13% of Facebook users and 92% of Twitter users tend to accept friend requests or follows without checking up on the source.”  As a result, the firm may raise insurance premiums for parents whose children use Facebook and Twitter and update their statuses with vacation and travel plans.  In fact, one firm in Great Britain has already taken action: “Insurance firm Hiscox, which will not insure celebrities who allow details of their holidays to be published in magazines, said it would penalise customers who state their where-abouts on public sites.” 
As this is a growing trend, and one that has caught the attention of insurance carriers, government agencies, and the media, it would behoove all users of social networking sites to pay careful attention to what information they share, and when they share it. Follow these tips to avoid being burgled via your social networking profile status:
-Do not post your travel plans at all.
-If you want to share your plans with your friends, family and fans, opt for letting everyone know when you are safely back in town.
-Do not give any specific information before you depart that would let the reader know when you are departing.
The old sayings “You are the company you keep” or “Show me a man’s friends, and I’ll show you the man” may not be so accurate in cyberspace. We may not always know who we are friending. A friend of a friend whom you met while at a party one night is an acquaintance, not a friend…but no such distinction exists in cyberspace. The blog Online Reputation discusses the potential ramifications to one’s reputation by making bad decisions on social networking sites.
As easy as it is to look up someone’s name and address on the net, it’s just as easy to post information about yourself or anyone else. A simple search of your name will probably yield Online Reputation results even you are surprised by.
The issue of online privacy is becoming more and more important and relevant to all of us. Several individuals and services have dedicated sites to researching the issues, and discussing ways we can all keep our private information under lock and key. A listing by Virtual Hosting.com highlights a few of the most active privacy blogs on the web:
1. Protect Personal and Financial Privacy: The name says it all. This blog is all about the issues that surround keeping your identity safe, your data secure and your financial and medical information private.
2. ID Theft Secrets Blog: This blog is dedicated to helping consumers find the resources and information they need to protect their credit card and personal data from becoming prey to identity fraudsters. Readers will get tips on simple things they can do to avoid becoming victims.
3. Fight Identity Theft Blog: Here, readers will find ways they can actively work to stop identity theft and protect themselves from those with ill intentions. The blog also posts on the latest news, technology and scams to watch out for.
4. Privacy and Identity Theft Blog: Written by Dave Jevans, this blog posts the latest in information and identity theft. Stories of what happened to others can help you ensure that the same things don’t happen to you.
5. Anti-Phishing Blog: This blog acts as a resource for Internet users. It lists recent phishing scams so that if you’re presented with them you’ll know what to look out for and what not to fall for.
6. Mark Nestman: Preserving Your Privacy and More: As the name suggests, this blog focuses on ways that individuals can protect their privacy. Posts on keeping your encrypted data safe and protecting yourself from identity theft are interspersed with the latest news in privacy politics and law.
Recognizing that our children are among the most vulnerable citizens in general, and specifically online, our government has dedicated resources for parents and guardians to stay on top of trends in cyber safety. As a parent, it is important to educate oneself and keep abreast of Internet issues and fads. Some important sites to visit hosted by the United States Federal Government are:
National Criminal Justice Reference Service
United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team
United States Homeland Security
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Stay Safe Online
National Center for Victims of Crime Stalking Center
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Halt Abuse – Founded by a cyberstalking victim
Internet Safety Center
1 “2005 Resolution (PDF)” The National Internet Safety Month.”(5-18-2005)
“2007 Resolution (PDF)” The National Internet Safety Month.”
2 “Google/DoubleClick Merger” EPIC”
3 “Privacy Fears Raised by DoubleClick Database Plans” CNET News”(1-25-00)
4 “Goggle Hit With Antitrust Investigation in Europe” Mashable”(2-10-10)
5 “Google Street View Privacy Probe Joined by Spain, Italy, France” Bloomberg”(5-20-10)
6 “Ten Countries Ask Google to Do More to Protect Privacy“Wall Street Journal”(4-20-10)
7 “Google Buzz Privacy Issues Have Real Life Implications“TechCrunch”(2-12-10)
8 “Abuse of Usenet: Cyberstalked How It All Began“Jahitchcock”(8-04-06)
9 “How to Avoid Someone Cyber Stalking You“Ehow”
10 “Think Twice: That Facebook Update Could Get You Robbed“Mashable”(8-27-09)
11 “Facebook and Twitter users face pricier insurance as burglars ’shop’ for victims’ personal details on networking sites“MailOnline”(8-27-09)
12 “Facebook, Twitter users prone to burglaries, say insurers“Social News”(3-22-10)