GetNetWise

Archive for July, 2008

Do You Know Where Your Kids Go Online? Monitoring Kids Web Use through Browser History

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Many parents respond affirmatively when asked in surveys whether they check up on where their children travel on the Internet. Research done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that 46% of parents monitor their child’s history (or “travels”) online. We suspect the vast majority of them likely monitor their children’s Internet usage by checking the History and Cache files within the Web browser that their child uses. At GetNetWise, we recommend that parents tell their children that they are keeping track of their online travels if they are doing so. Marian Merritt of Norton’s safety blog “Ask Marian” happens to agree. That conversation alone is a great opportunity to talk to your kids about online safety.

For younger children under 10 years old this is a moderately effective approach for parents to get a sense of the sites their kids are visiting. For instance, the browser History will show names and addresses of sites visited in recent days but very little detail about what the child did while there. Yet, this strategy has real limitations for older, savvier kids and teens.

Even though parents may make it a rule that children should not remove, alter, or delete browsing history, there are very simple workarounds to remove, alter, delete, or even never record a browsing history. One such work around is a simple function available in the Safari browser called “Private Browsing” that turns history recording off.

When Private Browsing is engaged the Web browser goes into stealth mode — no browsing history cookies or cache will be recorded. This feature can be switched on and off very easily, leading to a History and Cache that is incomplete. It is also relatively easy to altering a History to remove individual websites visited.

Private Browsing

It is important for parents to keep these types of workarounds in mind when considering whether they are effectively keeping track of their kids’ footprints online. Children younger than eleven would seem less likely to “work-around” history, than teenaged users. It is vitally important that parents clearly define rules for appropriate browsing behavior and talk about Web safety with their kids. If you as a parent decide you want to monitor your child’s online used and are concerned that he or she is manipulating the browser’s history and cache files you may want to consider using a more a robust approach to keeping track of Internet usage. To supplement Internet usage monitoring, there are many monitoring tools available on the market [See GetNetWise Tools Database for a list]. Many of these tools help parents keep an active eye on a child’s footsteps through cyberspace.

NSFW Tag, The New Content Rating for the Net?

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

The Internet often spawns its own language. Shorthand phrases like “LOL” (Laughing-Out-Loud) organically emerge as part of the Internet vernacular. Recently we’ve noticed a new, online shorthand phrase that is used to indicate that the content of the message or Web page is not appropriate because it is off-color at best or sexually explicit at worst. It is called “NSFW.”

Families and users should be on the look out for this phrase, which is actually an acronym that stands for “Not Safe For Work (NSFW).”  This phrase is used as a “warning” about content. It is often used in the context in which a link, or piece of material is being categorized by someone as having qualities which may not make it suitable for a workplace environment. This can be because of language, sexual content, violence, or any number of other traits that may make it inappropriate. Of course, if it’s not safe for viewing in the workplace, it’s probably not safe to view in your home with children around.

You will most often see NSFW posted in email message subject lines, next to web link headers and on message boards. An example of how this might be seen on the Web follows:  http://www.somepage.com/adultcontent.html (NSFW)

While this information may be typed out, sometimes it is additionally carried as computer code (“meta-data”) embedded within a link. Mozilla Firefox has a plug-in which allows you to avoid links tagged as being NSFW.

It is important to note that this is not a universal standard. It is up to the individual to “tag” content as NSFW. This means that the tag is entirely subjective; the tag is applied based on the perspective of the individual providing the link.

The lack of detail about the content of the link can be frustrating, but this tag may spawn widespread grassroots adoption. While traditional media is rated and tagged according to different trademarked ratings systems, there is no such assurance that trademarked systems will take root on the Net. In fact, according to sources from the tag’s Wikipedia entry, a trademark claim to NSFW was denied. Grassroots labels such as NSFW may become the new wave of ratings guides.

Keeping Your Web Browser Security Up to Date

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

You face significant security risks online when you don’t regularly update your Web browser’s security patches. Using an un-patched browser can leave your computer open to exploits that range from becoming more vulnerable to ad-ware, spy-ware and viruses, to potentially leaving your entire computer vulnerable to being remotely accessed.

A recent Ars Technica news article indicated that a study conducted by Google, the Swiss Institute of Technology, and IBM found that up to 40% of Internet surfers are not using the most up-to-date version of their web browser.

Making sure that your web-browser is up to date is not as difficult as it used to be. Most browsers include a feature that allows the browser to check to see if it is the most current update. We recommend that you change your browser’s settings to automatically update its security software. Please view the new “How-To” video tutorials below to learn how to check to make sure you are using the most up to date version of your browser.

In Firefox:

In Internet Explorer:

Firefox and Other Browsers’ Cookie Privacy Settings for 3rd Party Cookies

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Cookies are small coded files that Web sites write onto your hard drive to keep track of the pages you’ve visited. They can only be read by the site that sent them to you, and they cannot search anything else on your computer. They also don’t give away your name or other personally identifiable information (PII). So, why are some people worried about cookies? Where you search and what you enter online can be very personal, sensitive information. If you’ve ever filled out a form or entered your name or password at the site, your personal information can be linked to your browsing habits there. So you’ll want to read the privacy policy of the Web site you’re visiting to see how cookies are handled.

At the same time, cookies can be useful tools. The “Google Privacy: A Look at Cookies” YouTube video provides some interesting information about how cookies can be useful. The Berkman Center at Harvard asked users to create their own YouTube videos to describe how cookies work and received some fairly decent descriptions. Many of the videos noted that much of the free content on the Internet is supported by cookie-enabled advertising.

It is important to note that not all cookies are the same. Some people have concerns about the different types of cookies that are out there. Let’s say that I’m browsing the homepage SomePortal.com, and the SomePortal.com allows the fictional Web site CookiePortal.com to place cookies on the browsers of visitors to SomePortal.com. This is type of cookie is a third party cookie. It is a cookie that does not originate from the webpage currently being browsed. Third party cookies are also used to facilitate the partnerships among websites. This can help websites to tailor content to the individual.

If you’d rather not have third parties tracking the Web pages you visit, you may want to consider blocking cookies from them. In a number of Web browsers, it is possible to change your privacy settings to block third-party cookies from being placed on your computer. The just-released Mozilla Firefox 3 browser now allows users to block third-party cookies (Note: Internet Explorer and Opera have allowed this for years) and there is a new video tutorial below. Check out the related video tutorials for blocking third-party cookies in IE and Opera if you use those browsers.

Control Third-Party Cookies in Firefox 3

If you would like to learn how to do this on other browsers, please visit the following the Browsing Privacy Section on GetNetWise.org.

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