Par­ents learn how to pro­tect chil­dren’s safety, data on­line

U.S. dis­trict at­tor­ney of­fice of­fers tips for mon­i­tor­ing in­ter­net ac­tiv­ity

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­

In an ef­fort to pro­vide the com­mu­nity with nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion to keep chil­dren safe on the in­ter­net and se­cure their wel­fare, U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice-Dis­trict of Mary­land com­mu­nity out­reach spe­cial­ist Vince DeVivo vis­ited Dr. James Craik Ele­men­tary School in Pom­fret on Tues­day to give a mul­ti­me­dia pre­sen­ta­tion called, “In­no­cence Stolen: Pro­tect­ing Our Chil­dren On­line.”

The pre­sen­ta­tion in­formed par­ents about how to best pro­tect young peo­ple from neg­a­tive and crim­i­nal in­flu­ences on­line. DeVivo dis­cussed an ar­ray of top­ics which in­cluded so­cial net­work­ing, cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, on­line gang re­cruit­ment, photo shar­ing, sex­ting, tex­ting acronyms and in­ter­net preda­tors. He also shared in­ter­net safety re­sources along with pre­ven­tion and in­ter­ven­tion strate­gies.

On­line safety

When it comes to on­line safety, DeVivo said iden­tity thieves look for spe­cific pieces of in­for­ma­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Phoenix-based cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­pert Mark Pribish, that in­for­ma­tion in­cludes user­names, pass­words and PIN num­bers; So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers;

phone and util­ity ac­count num­bers; bank and credit card ac­count num­bers; em­ploy­ment and stu­dent iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­bers; driver’s li­cense and pass­port num­bers; in­surance iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­bers; and in­for­ma­tion from col­lege or uni­ver­sity fi­nan­cial aid forms.

“Most of the sites that your kids use, and the fair num­ber of sites that you use, are built and op­er­ated by mil­len­ni­als. And, high on their con­cern is not the safety, se­cu­rity or pri­vacy of you or your fam­ily; it’s about mak­ing big bucks in the in­ter­net age,” DeVivo said. “There’s no such thing as in­ter­net pri­vacy. Most of these sites set up pri­vacy poli­cies to give you a [false] com­fort level so that you will give as much per­sonal in­for­ma­tion about your­self as pos­si­ble. It makes you more sell­able as an on­line com­mod­ity.”

DeVivo said the in­ter­net is the nexus for a lot of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity. Per­haps the big­gest on­line threat that kids face are in­di­vid­u­als called in­ter­net preda­tors, who DeVivo said ap­pear ev­ery­where and

are ac­tive 24/7, 365 days a year.

“We’re all very trust­ing of the on­line ex­pe­ri­ence, prob­a­bly more so than we should be,” said DeVivo, who works out of the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice for the Dis­trict of Mary­land, lo­cated in Bal­ti­more, which in­ves­ti­gates and pros­e­cutes fed­eral crime that oc­curs in or has a con­nec­tion to the state. “I would not have to go far from this school build­ing into the sur­round­ing res­i­den­tial ar­eas to find kids who are some­where on the con­tin­uum, right now, be­ing ac­tively re­cruited by these in­di­vid­u­als. And in many cases, the kids them­selves won’t even know.”

“Typ­i­cally, when we train law en­force­ment to go on­line and im­per­son­ate kids, it’s less than two hours be­fore there’s cred­i­ble threats. It’s very, very com­mon,” DeVivo said. “[In­ter­net preda­tors] can find your kids on so­cial me­dia sites; that’s the ob­vi­ous first choice. But they’re also on news groups, blogs, mi­cro-sites, in­stant mes­sag­ing and of course, lots of ac­tiv­ity on the Xbox and Playsta­tion [gam­ing] sys­tems. They know that’s where kids are which makes them easy to find. This is part of why kids may some­times

not even know what’s go­ing on.”

Talk­ing about the in­ter­net

DeVivo en­cour­ages par­ents to ask their chil­dren a se­ries of ques­tions that will help pro­mote a safe and healthy learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Par­ents should ask things like:

• How much does it cost to join Face­book, In­sta­gram or other so­cial me­dia sites?

• What do you con­sider to be in­ap­pro­pri­ate ma­te­rial on the in­ter­net?

• Have you ever come across in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tent on the in­ter­net? What did you do?

• What would you do if you came across a popup of a naked per­son or hate­ful speech against a per­son or group?

• Would you feel com­fort­able telling me about any­thing you saw on­line that made you feel scared or un­com­fort­able? Why or why not?

“Kids will tell us cer­tain things about the ex­pe­ri­ence that they had with cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als,” DeVivo said. “When these con­ver­sa­tions oc­cur with kids, [in­ter­net preda­tors] are go­ing to ap­pear to be at a very peer-to-peer level. They study ev­ery­thing,

from what’s in and what’s out to who’s hot and who’s not, to the point at which kids have told us that even after they sus­pected that the per­son they were com­mu­ni­cat­ing with is not their chrono­log­i­cal age, they con­tinue the con­ver­sa­tions any­way. [In­ter­net preda­tors] will in­tro­duce sex­ual con­tent to your child when they think your child is ready. That can be after weeks, months or in some cases, years of set­ting your child up on­line.”

Golden rules

DeVivo out­lined eight spe­cific golden rules for keep­ing chil­dren safe on the in­ter­net, the first of which he said ap­plies in real life which in­cludes cour­tesy, kind­ness, mod­esty, dig­nity and re­spect for the law and oth­ers. The other guide­lines en­cour­age kids to not talk to strangers; keep pri­vate in­for­ma­tion pri­vate; never agree to meet an on­line friend with­out per­mis­sion from par­ents; be mind­ful that there are no guar­an­tees about what is said or posted on the in­ter­net re­main­ing pri­vate; re­mem­ber that all in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing pho­tos and videos, posted on­line can last for­ever; watch for apps

that are dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand, have a hid­den pur­pose or re­quest ac­cess to one’s cam­era; and find good friends, web­sites or games on­line that are pos­i­tive to en­joy.

“The in­ter­net is an elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion medium filled with busi­nesses and en­ti­ties of all sizes, whose pri­mary pur­pose is to col­lect and ag­gre­gate and sell in­for­ma­tion,” DeVivo said. “After you’ve [agreed to] a pri­vacy pol­icy for any free so­cial me­dia or on­line shop­ping site, what you re­ally agreed to is this — they’re sim­ply le­gal dis­claimers that tell you that from this point for­ward, ev­ery­thing you do on those sites is their prop­erty and they re­serve the right to do any­thing they want with that in­for­ma­tion. If that’s not con­cern­ing enough, your chil­dren are the com­modi­ties that are be­ing bought and sold on­line. The con­se­quences for us and for them are not good. Our kids are tech savvy, but they’re not on­line street smart.”

Ac­cord­ing to DeVivo, www.nets­ has help­ful in­for­ma­tion about in­ter­net safety, in­clud­ing age ap­pro­pri­ate videos, ac­tiv­i­ties and other re­sources, for all stu­dents from ele­men­tary to high school.

In terms of on­line don’ts, DeVivo said stu­dents are ad­vised not to post per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on­line as it can be used by oth­ers to find out where they live; post their pic­ture or pic­tures of their fam­ily as that can be copied, changed or used for lo­ca­tion pur­poses; send any in­ap­pro­pri­ate pho­tos or mes­sage by email or text; post plans and ac­tiv­i­ties in a chat room or on per­sonal web­sites; post en­tries that make it clear that no one is at their home; com­mu­ni­cate with some­one who has made them un­com­fort­able or afraid, and in­stead tell a par­ent or trusted adult; join on­line groups or games with­out talk­ing to their par­ents; meet with some­one whom they met on­line with­out telling a par­ent or guardian; post or re­spond to hurt­ful and in­ap­pro­pri­ate mes­sages; click on any links that are un­fa­mil­iar or seem like an il­le­git­i­mate source; buy any apps or in-app prod­ucts with­out ask­ing for per­mis­sion; and not to en­able any lo­ca­tion ser­vices with­out an adult’s per­mis­sion.

As for on­line do’s, DeVivo said stu­dents should re­mem­ber that peo­ple

can lie on­line and say that they are some­thing they are not. Some­one who says they are a 12-year-old girl, for ex­am­ple, could re­ally be an older man look­ing to harm other kids.

“It is my be­lief that no de­vice should ever be in the hands of a child that is not reg­u­lated or have lim­its set,” DeVivo said. “They’re go­ing to be watched for a while by preda­tors be­fore any con­tact is even ini­ti­ated. These are pa­tiently im­pa­tient peo­ple; they are very good at what they do.”

Other do’s in­clude shar­ing pass­words and saved mes­sages, es­pe­cially ones that are up­set­ting, with par­ents.

DeVivo said the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice is ea­ger to part­ner with adults in pro­mot­ing a safe and healthy learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment for young peo­ple in their com­mu­ni­ties. Par­ents, teach­ers and com­mu­nity ser­vice providers play a crit­i­cal role in se­cur­ing the safety and wel­fare of chil­dren.

“You are not lim­ited to your ser­vice provider. You can go off the menu and down­load soft­ware to place on a de­vice, like a phone or lap­top or desk­top, and con­trols that will al­low you to mir­ror ev­ery piece of in­com­ing and out­go­ing data to a child’s de­vice di­rectly to yours,” DeVivo said. “The ques­tion is what is the ap­pro­pri­ate level of mon­i­tor­ing?”

“I’m good with my kids hat­ing me if it’s for the right rea­sons and I know what I would ex­pose them to if I did not con­trol their ac­cess to the in­ter­net,” DeVivo added. “I’m hop­ing that we can turn it around one day so that be­ing hated as a par­ent is some­thing to be ap­pre­ci­ated for.”

DeVivo rec­om­mends that par­ents should teach their kids not to post iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion on the in­ter­net; set a time limit for how much time their chil­dren can spend on­line; keep all com­put­ers in a sep­a­rate room in the house in­stead of hav­ing an in­ter­net-ac­ces­si­ble com­puter in the child’s bed­room; use parental con­trols pro­vided by their in­ter­net ser­vice providers and/or block­ing soft­ware; talk to their chil­dren about pur­chas­ing in-app prod­ucts as well as us­ing any lo­ca­tion ser­vices on per­sonal de­vices; con­duct pe­ri­odic checks on com­put­ers to in­clude emails and mes­sages; have ac­cess to all pass­words; spend time with chil­dren on­line and learn about their fa­vorite web­sites or friends while nav­i­gat­ing through the web; know who their chil­dren fre­quently text and email; mon­i­tor in­ter­net ac­cess and tex­ting com­mu­ni­ca­tion with oth­ers; in­form chil­dren about the dan­gers of in­ter­net preda­tors; and watch for un­ex­plained changes in their child’s be­hav­ior.

Most im­por­tantly, DeVivo said par­ents should not hes­i­tate to seek help from law en­force­ment if they think an on­line preda­tor may be tar­get­ing their chil­dren.

“The No. 1 thing that stood out for me is the aware­ness piece. Tech­nol­ogy can be a good tool but we need to be very ed­u­cated on the dif­fer­ent apps and sites that we’re us­ing, and our chil­dren,” said Michelle Beck­with, prin­ci­pal of Craik Ele­men­tary who has sev­eral chil­dren of her own. “I feel that our school sys­tem does a very good job at fil­ter­ing and reg­u­lat­ing those things. But as a par­ent, you want to leave here mak­ing sure that you’re well aware of what your chil­dren are search­ing on­line and the apps that they have on their phone.”

“I am a par­ent my­self. My chil­dren do go to school here and I have a teenager,” Beck­with added. “What res­onated with me is just look­ing at some of the so­cial net­work­ing sites that are very pop­u­lar. I feel that I’m very in tune with hav­ing [my teenager’s] pass­word and check­ing his ac­counts. After lis­ten­ing to some of the back door in­for­ma­tion that [DeVivo] shared, it was kind of like an ‘aha’ mo­ment. That was the aware­ness piece that I felt was im­por­tant as a par­ent. I felt that I was ed­u­cated enough to know what to look for, but clearly not enough. It was def­i­nitely a good take­away for me.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on DeVivo’s pre­sen­ta­tion, send an email to vin­cent. devivo@us­ or call 410-209-4832.


U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice-Dis­trict of Mary­land com­mu­nity out­reach spe­cial­ist Vince DeVivo gives a child in­ter­net safety pre­sen­ta­tion Tues­day at Dr. James Craik Ele­men­tary School in Pom­fret. Dis­cus­sion top­ics in­cluded so­cial net­work­ing, cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, on­line gang re­cruit­ment, photo shar­ing, sex­ting, tex­ting acronyms and in­ter­net preda­tors.

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