Protecting Your Kids Online

Allison’s phone buzzed as she searched through her purse to find it.  When she glanced at the screen, her stomach knotted up.  As if she hadn’t had enough to deal with for one day, already having to fill out paperwork at the bank regarding unauthorized purchases with her debit card, her son’s school office was calling.  Again.  For the third time that month.  Once had been due to Chase not turning in assignments, the time after that he’d gotten into a fight.  She took a deep breath and answered.  “Hello?”

“Mrs. Jenkins, this is Chase’s principal.  I need to speak with you.  Can you come down to the school this afternoon?”  Allison hung up the phone in despair.  She couldn’t imagine what could be so bad that the principal wouldn’t discuss it over the phone.

The next hour was filled with worry and speculation.  She thought she had prepared herself for anything.  She was certain she’d thought of the worst-case scenarios.  She was wrong.  When she entered the principal’s office, a police officer waited for her.  He was dressed in plain clothes, but his badge was easily visible on his belt.  Panic swept through her.  She hadn’t imagined the police would be involved.  What Allison found out that afternoon she hadn’t expected at all.  Chase wasn’t the culprit this time – he was the target.

At 12 years old, Chase had used his computer lab time the same as many of his friends, to create and participate in social media accounts that he was legally too young to do without parental permission.  In the process, Chase had given out a lot of personal information.  His address, phone number, the school he attended, names of family members and more.  Suddenly, things began to click.  If Chase had been doing the same things at home on the family computer, maybe she’d found how her bank account had been compromised.  The police officer was part of a task force that had been working with the school and monitoring some of the activity that had led to a 13 year-old student being abducted the year before.  Chase and some of his friends appeared to be following the same patterns.  Read more

User Agreements : Selling your Soul

I watched him closely for a few minutes, trying to decide if I should even ask.  I’ve learned over the years that sometimes, I don’t want to know.  Really.  But he’d been studying the words on the screen for longer than I’ve ever seen him read anything that wasn’t printed on the back of a cereal box in bright colors. And when he laughed, I had to know what parallel universe had my 16 year-old son reading the fine print without a colorful picture in sight.  So…I asked.

“Whatcha reading?”  He placed a finger on the computer screen to hold his place like it was a book or something.  I suppressed a smirk.

A smirk that quickly morphed into shock when he answered, “The User Agreement for GameStation.”

“What?  You’re reading a User Agreement?  I can’t get you to read the notes I leave you on the fridge.  And …and why were you laughing?”   Turns out, he agreed to give his soul to GameStation that day.  No.  Seriously.  That was part of the ‘User Agreement.’  Read more

Social Media and Your Privacy

“If I see one more ad for the perfect wedding dress, I might scream.”  I sat at my desk, scrolling through my Facebook page while I talked to my best friend on the phone.

She laughed and asked, “Why are you looking at ads for wedding dresses?”

“I’m trying not to!”  I couldn’t help but shake my head myself.  For the past two weeks, it’s been a rarity not to have at least one ad on my Facebook feed for engagement rings, honeymoon destinations or – you guessed it – the perfect wedding dress.  I’m recently divorced.  No intentions of marriage in the foreseeable future.  But Facebook doesn’t know that about me.  All they know is that I started helping my sister plan her a few weeks ago.

It’s no coincidence that the ads you see on your Facebook page are relevant to things you might be interested in.  Read more

Why Privacy Matters

“How did you find me?”  I had to ask.  I felt like he at least owed me an answer since I had politely answered all of the questions he’d had about the car I had owned a few months earlier.  A car he recently bought from a used car dealer.

“I back-tracked the VIN number through the DMV website and found your information through the state’s online database.”  His response sent a wave of uneasiness through me.  This was no tech geek; he was an ordinary guy who worked in construction.  I was floored by how easily he was able to track me down.  I immediately began imagining what someone with even a little computer background could find out about me.  When I hung up the phone, I began a little digging of my own.  I was surprised at what I found.  Read more


“Well, he’s out of surgery and is doing great.” The news hit Alyssa’s ears like a thousand trumpets from heaven.  She was so worried about Steven after he’d fell off the ladder, his arm bent up in ways she couldn’t stomach to think about.

“Oh my gosh. Thank you doctor! I was so worried.” Tears of joy began to stream down her face. She had thought for sure he might have been a goner.  And it was her fault. She had pestered and screamed at him to get up there and clean the gutters. Steve protested numerous times, saying he wasn’t fond of heights and maybe they should call in professionals.

The doctor looked at her inquisitively, not sure of what to make of her scrunched up face as she reminisced about the argument earlier in the day.

“Anyways-,” he continued, “He is awake and as I said the surgery went well. He should be right as rain in a few months with some rehab.”

“Awesome!” Alyssa couldn’t help but jump up and down.

“Yeah, I mean he’s happy and awake. For a guy who just lost his arm he’s-” Before the doctor could finish, Alyssa immediately lost her smile, a face of anger boiling up. Read more