Smartphones are popular holiday gifts for kids but come with responsibility

A Parents Guide to Mible Phones from ConnectSafely covers the basics of phone safety, privacy and security

A Parents Guide to Mobile Phones from ConnectSafely covers the basics of phone safety, privacy and security

There will be lots of smartphones under Christmas trees and Hanukkah bushes this year, but if you plan to get one for a teen or pre-teen, consider first having “that talk” with your child. By “talk,” I don’t mean the birds and bees, I mean a conversation about smartphone safety, privacy and security.

A while back I wrote “10 Rules for Safe Family Cell Phone Use, which starts with a conversation and includes talking with your kids about the proper use of apps, especially those that are location aware. It’s also important to make sure kids understand when it’s not OK to use their phone (including meals and bedtime) and how to use it politely. And because phones can be used for social media, web surfing and email, the same rules that apply to computer use, apply to phones too.

Kids also need to be aware that phones cost money to buy and use and especially replace if they’re lost stolen or broken and it’s especially important to have a conversation about smartphone security, including use of personal .ID numbers or passwords to protect their phones.

Consider signing a contract with your child to set the ground rules for cell phone use.

Click below for Larry’s CBS News Holiday Tech Talk segment on kids and mobile phones

Links:

A Parents Guide to Mobile Phones

Tips for smart cell phone use

Family Contract for Smartphone Use

10 Rules for Safe Family Cell Phone Use

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Holiday Gift Guide: Wearables and fitness bands

CNET’s Wearable Tech section

$50 Jawbone Up Review by Scott Stein (CNET)

CNET’s Pebble Steel review (also consider the less expensive plastic Pebble)

LifeTrak Fitness Watch Is Inexpensive, Always-On and Never Needs Charging

Click below for Larry’s 1 minute CBS News segment on fitness bands and smart watches

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How to keep your gadgets running during a power outage

Power failures can happen at any time, whether its a major rainstorm in California, a hurricane in Florida, tornado in Kansas or just a random occurrence. And when they do happen, many of our tech gadgets stop working. So here’s some advice on what to do in case of a power failure.

Keep your phones working

Your cell phone is one of the most important things to have working in a power failure, even if you have a landline, because the same issues that take out power could also take out local phone service. If you suspect a power failure could be on the horizon, be sure to charge your phone ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to have an external battery charger for your phone. Continue reading

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Tech Check List To Prepare For a Power Failure Or Major Storm

Read the post at Forbes.com

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Safety & civility advice for anonymous apps

After School’s iTunes page promises to let you post anonymously

Update: Recode reports that After School has been banned by Apple for the second time.

A growing number of apps allow people to post anonymously. Some of the better known ones include Ask.fm, Whisper, Secret and Yik Yak but there are new ones all the time, including After School, that’s been downloaded more than 100,000 times including by students from more than 14,000 U.S. high schools, according toRecode.net.

As Recode pointed out, After School’s seven-person staff can’t possibly police all of the posts on this growing service, though the company says it does employ software to look for particularly alarming words like “kill,” “cut” and “bomb.” AsTechCrunch reported, the app has been associated with numerous bullying incidents.

There are also reports of gun threats, which prompted the Superintendent of Flushing (Michigan) Community Schools to write, “The purpose of the app continues to be in question and very concerning. Not only does it allow for individuals to post anonymous, and often times inappropriate statements and pictures, it also allows the app company access to personal information from an individual’s Facebook account.” The app was temporarily removed from the Apple app store and later reinstated with a 17+ rating.
Yik Yak has also had its share of criticism, which prompted the company to geo-fence the app so it can’t be accessed from high school campuses. Ask.fm was once the poster-child for anything goes posts, but was recently acquired by IAC with new management, a chief safety officer and a commitment to better police its service.

What all these apps have in common is the ability for people to post comments or ask questions without having to reveal their real name or, in some cases, without even having to use an account name or alias.

As I discuss in this post, there are some very positive aspects to anonymous apps, but of course there are some risks including the ability to use the app for bullying, to spread false or malicious gossip, to embarrass people, for unwanted sexual solicitation and harassment or, in some cases, to post inappropriate photos.

Nothing new

These concerns are nothing new — we’ve been talking about them since the Internet first became commercialized back in the 90′s. And while the specific details vary according to the app, some general principles apply for all apps, whether anonymous or not.

Know how to report. Some apps have reporting features that can alert the company’s customer service staff if someone is being abusive. Learn to find and use these features where they exist.

Call for help if you’re frightened. If someone threatens you in a way that gives you reason to fear for your safety, reach out immediately for help. Contact school authorities, parents or law enforcement if you are concerned about your safety.

You’re never completely anonymous or above the law. Even though these apps might be able to hide your identity from other users, there are ways to track people down through Internet protocol addresses, cell phone identifiers, and other clues. Both hackers and law enforcement (with proper authorization) have tools to find you.

Know what the app knows about you and your friends. It’s not uncommon for mobile social media apps to collect information about you and your friends. Pay attention to any disclosures and be extra careful about allowing the app to contact Facebook friends or people on your contact list on your behalf. Also be aware of the apps geolocation features, including tracking where are and sharing it with others.

You are responsible for your behavior. Users are both morally and legally responsible for how they behave on these apps. In addition to the possibility of prosecution, you can be banned from using the app by the operator if you violate their terms of service and there can be other repercussions from school and other authorities if you violate community rules of behavior.

Disagree respectfully. Anonymous apps often give people an opportunity to engage in spirited debate around just about any issue including politics, religion, sexuality — even your favorite smartphone or computer. These debates can be great, but they should also be respectful.

Don’t out others. Spreading rumors or revealing secrets about others is a form of bullying. Just because you know something about someone, doesn’t give you the right to share it without permission. Also, respect other people when sharing photographs. It’s best to ask permission before sharing a photo with anyone else in it and common decency to take down (or untag) a person who objects to being in a photo.

Don’t invite trouble. Sometimes people ask for trouble, by posting questions about themselves like “am I pretty” or “do you think I’m fat.” Sadly, there are people who will sometimes pounce on people who ask questions like this. Think before you ask any questions about yourself or others.

People online have feelings. This should be obvious but sometimes we forget that people on the other side of the screen are really people with genuine feelings. It’s not uncommon for folks who are pretty considerate when they meet others in person to forget their manners when they encounter them online. One thing to consider is that you don’t know the mental or emotional state of the person on the other end. What may seem to you to be just funny or mildly annoying could be emotionally devastating to that person, depending on how they interpret it and what is going on in their lives.

Why you should ‘share thoughtfully. As we say in ConnectSafley.org’s A Parents Guide to Mobile, both kids and adults “need to know that what they post is a reflection on them. Talk with them about respecting their own and others’ dignity and privacy by being aware of what they’re “saying” with both words and images.”

Remember that what you post may be permanent. Your posts may appear to go away, but chances are they’ll remain online for a long long time. And even if you delete them, there’s always a chance that someone could have copied and reposted it.

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

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Safe holiday online shopping tips

When you see a great deal online, make sure you examine the fine print. The biggest “gotcha” is usually shipping costs. Many online merchants will offer free shipping during the holidays, but some will add substantial fees that could wipe out any savings.

Be aware of sales tax and any other fees. Depending on whether the merchant has an in-state “presence,” it may or may not add sales tax — Amazon does, along with all merchants that have brick-and-mortar stores in California. California residents are supposed to declare any tax-free online purchases on their state tax returns and pay the sales tax, though I’m not sure how many people actually comply with that law.

Too good to be true?

If a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is. I once fell for a seemingly great offer on a camera only to find out that it didn’t come with a battery or manual. Fortunately, they were willing to take it back and give me a refund, which brings up another issue: Be sure you understand the merchant’s return policy. Merchants usually allow 30 days to return an item, but the period could be shorter, longer or nonexistent. Many online merchants extend their return policy this time of year to give people plenty of time after the holidays to return items, but be sure to check

Get it on time

Also check delivery dates, especially if you’re buying a Christmas or Hanukkah gift that you want delivered on time. Most of the major online merchants will post their deadlines for general, free or expedited shipping as we get closer to Christmas. Last year, Amazon’s free shipping deadline was Dec. 18th, but it still offered one- or two-day shipping options until Dec. 23.

Do a little research

I’m always a bit nervous when dealing with online merchants that I don’t know, so if I see a deal from an unknown source, I do a little research to see what people say. If nothing comes up either way, I’ll add the word “scam” to their name in a search query, which sometimes brings up negative reports. However, it’s important to remember that just about any merchant — even well-known and mostly trusted ones — are going to have some public complaints, so think carefully before rejecting a merchant based on one or two bad reviews.

Use credit card if possible

If possible, it’s best to use a credit card when shopping online: The federal Fair Credit Billing Act limits your liability to $50, and most credit card companies will even waive that amount. You also have some protections with most debit cards, but, because they deduct money from your account the moment you make the purchase, it’s up to you to convince them to put the money back into your account. Credit card companies will suspend charges while they investigate fraud complaints, but if they decide it’s not fraud, you’ll eventually be charged.

Check those online statements

The Federal Trade Commission urges consumers to print or save records of all online transactions, including the price and product description. The FTC also recommends that consumers check their credit card statements to make sure they were charged the correct amount. I frequently log in to my credit card accounts on the Web to check for recent activity, which, in many cases, is posted the moment your card is charged.

Holiday scammers

The holiday season always brings out scammers, including “phishers.” Be very careful before clicking on any links you get in email that looks like it’s coming from a legitimate online retailer, a bank or maybe even a government agency. It could be a phishing attack designed to steal your logon credentials or other personal information. The safest bet is to type the Web address manually into your browser. Be especially leery of any links that don’t end with company’s actual domain name; for example, any links to a legitimate Chase site will end in “chase.com.”

And don’t forget to protect yourself when shopping offline. Credit card scams and hacks are on the rise so, again, check your recent activity frequently during the holiday season report any suspicious activity. I was reminded of this the other day when my bank called to tell me that my Visa card was used to buy gas and groceries in Georgia. I haven’t been to Georgia since I got that card, so it probably resulted from a merchant being hacked.

Finally, as you try to minimize the risk of online shopping scams, don’t forget that all shopping has risks. Personally, I’m just as worried about pickpockets in malls and fender benders in parking lots as I am about online scams.

Advice from FTC

Here are some additional tips that the Federal Trade Commission published in 2011 that still apply

Set a Budget. Create a gift list and check it twice to help you stay on track and not overspend.

Decide What Matters. Especially if you’re buying gadgets, know what your “must-have” features are vs. those that are just nice to have.

Use Search Engines. Type a company or product name into your search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam” to find out more about it.

Read Reviews Online. Reviews from other people, experts, and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs. But don’t put all of your trust in one review.

Consider Reputation. A brand’s reputation for quality and good customer service can really pay off.

Check Comparison Shopping Sites. They connect to many retailers selling the same product, sometimes at significantly different prices. Keep shipping costs in mind.

Consider Coupons. Some companies offer discounts via e-mail, and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with terms like “discount,” “coupon” or “free shipping.”

Read Return Policies. Not all stores have the same rules. Some charge fees for return shipping or restocking things like electronics.

Decide How to Pay. When you shop online, credit cards can offer extra protections.

Look for a Secure Checkout. Does the website start with https (the “s” stands for secure) when you’re checking

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Google ditching CAPTCHA for ‘I’m not a robot’ checkbox

Read the full post at SiliconValley.com

 

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Twitter Improves Abuse Reporting And Blocking

Read the full post at Forbes.com

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Sexual harassment victim’s secret weapon — ‘telling their mothers’

Read post at ConnectSafely.org

 

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Amazon robots help fulfill your holiday orders

Read the full story and see the video at CNET News.com

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