Tracking Kids’ Online Behavior May Diminish Computer Privacy

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Are you fully aware of the risks to your family’s privacy when signing up with “kid monitoring” software programs that track social media activities, emails, and text messages? Did you know that you may be authorizing “irrevocable permission” to publish any and all monitored communications?

online privacy kids

An organization called School Safety Partners thinks parents don’t fully know how their personal information is used.

As an example, it points to a software monitoring company called SafetyWeb, which offers parents a degree of control over their kids’ social media habits. SafetyWeb’s privacy policy includes a clause – which is quite typical in the industry but could lead to civil or criminal charges – that says it may alert certain behaviors to the police:

“We may disclose any information about you to government or law enforcement officials or private parties as we, in our sole discretion, believe necessary or appropriate to respond to claims, legal process (including subpoenas), to protect the property and rights of SafetyWeb or a third party, the safety of the public or any person, to prevent or stop any illegal, unethical, or legally actionable activity, or to comply with the law.”

Another example is a firm called SocialShield that can closely monitor teenagers’ Facebook activities. It brags that – for $10 a month – it “sees it all and more and then we let you know right away when something goes wrong.” But the problem is that you’re giving up a lot of privacy rights when registering with this type of tracking company.

Private User Information Tips

To ensure better privacy protection — and before registering with any monitoring firm — School Safety Partners advises parents to ask the following privacy and liability questions:

  1. Does the company acquire all rights to publish my family’s private messages?
  2. Does the company have the right to turn over my family’s messages to authorities without my authorization or without first notifying me?
  3. What are my obligations to the company if a matter is to be resolved privately?
  4. Will I be adequately notified about any changes to the company’s privacy policy?
  5. Does my child’s school have a policy about confiscating and searching cell phones? If so, how does it conflict with my parental monitoring and controls?
  6. What are the legal consequences of preserving or deleting incriminating messages? How should offensive content be preserved or deleted?
  7. Am I obligated to report criminal activity or serious risk behavior that the service brings to my attention?
  8. In my state, what are the legal consequences of sexting, cyber-bullying, forwarding third-party offensive messages, issuing threats of violence, and other online criminal activities?
  9. How long does the service company store my family’s messages and online activity logs?
  10. Will my family’s private information be accessible for investigations centered around other families, or for out-of-state or national investigations?
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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.